Land Trusts and Indigenous Peoples: The Canadian Context

Illustrator/Graphic Designer: Aishwarya Raguraman


This report is a result of a three year collaboration between the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership (CRP) and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The decision was made by the CRP Indigenous Land Trust Learning Circle to investigate, study and assess how land trusts are useful to Indigenous land stewardship efforts. It is thought that land trusts might provide novel opportunities to Indigenous groups, governments, organizations, communities, and individuals to access land and exercise responsibilities under the general framing of “decolonized” environmental governance.

We are grateful to Robin Roth, Christie Macdonald, Ian Attridge, Trish Nash, and others for their contributions and edits.


Land trust models offer potential opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to reclaim lands lost through ongoing dispossession. Having a land trust organization allows a group to accept the donation of lands and money and manage them according to the mandate of the land trust. This may be a particularly important tool for Indigenous Peoples whose traditional lands have a high percentage of private property.

Regaining access to these lands can provide opportunities for land-based learning, ceremony, gathering, revitalization of language and connection to land. But they come with limitations.

Importantly, land trusts utilize crown laws that do not reflect Indigenous perspectives on land and water relationships and are often overly bureaucratic in their timelines and reporting requirements. They also require the administrative capacity to raise funds and steward lands.

Partners should be open to legal and policy reform that can make room for more Indigenous-owned land trusts. The specificity of that reform needs to be grounded in the experiences of participating Indigenous communities in a variety of jurisdictions, treaty areas and relationships to territory.

Long-term commitment is needed. The growth and continuity of a land trust hinges on guaranteed and secure funding enabling Indigenous communities to focus on engagement, relationship building and training to address capacity gaps.

Among all Indigenous Peoples interviewed for this project, there was the full range of perspectives, from reluctant engagement with the land trust model as the best option for the moment to enthusiastic embrace of the model as the best way forward to a more just future.

Indigenous Peoples continue pursuing avenues of self-determination to fulfill their responsibilities to current and future generations. Land trust models are potentially innovative approaches which may be more flexible than they first appear. Those seeking this model, those seeking access to land and opportunity may find collaboration and inspiration but also constraint.

The purpose of this document is to offer considerations that can be taken up in different places according to the specific priorities of those involved.

Download the full Report: Land Trusts and Indigenous Peoples: The Canadian Context