Indigenous territories comprise roughly one-fifth of the world’s land, and scientists who work in fields such as climate, ecology and astronomy can enrich their research by collaborating with the native residents. Indigenous people have long helped scientists to gain access to study sites and to local knowledge about everything from forest plants to astronomical observations to cultural traditions.
But alliances can be tricky to navigate when past missteps have strained relations between visiting scientists and residents. Indigenous people rarely show up on author lists of studies, for example, and that slight — among others — has caused some community members to be wary.
That is beginning to change as members of indigenous groups around the world assert their roles as producers and preservers of knowledge, and are increasingly starting to earn university degrees and work as academic researchers. Nonetheless, scientists who will be doing fieldwork at indigenous sites must proceed with care and respect. They should plan ahead to meet community members and secure their cooperation and consent to access sites and collect samples. They must incorporate and acknowledge community members’ contributions to their work, and be open to substantive collaborations that go beyond just requesting knowledge or logistical support.