Partnering with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

Indian Country 101 Training

By Brie Fraley, Former Director, North America Indigenous Landscapes and Communities

Group of people paddling in a canoe.
Canoe Families Canoe families from around the Pacific Northwest paddled from their home villages to Point Grenville on the Quinalt Reservation in 2013. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

Growing Competency and Capacity to Partner with Indigenous Peoples:
Tribal Engagement Training for Conservation Practitioners in North America.

Start the training today

Indian Country 101

When you hear the phrase Indian Country, what does that signal for you? Depending on your perspective, it can mean something different based on where you come from and what you have learned.

If you ask a lawyer, you might get this response, “The term Indian country is defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1151 and 40 C.F.R. § 171.3 as: all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and, including rights-of-way running through the reservation.”

But if you ask a Native American, you will most likely be told, “it's all Indian Country” when referring to North America.

As an Indigenous leader in conservation, and historian of some sorts, I’d prefer the latter. Once you start to learn about the history of how the US was established, I want you to ask yourself, was this Country founded on inequities and injustices? Through this coursework your perspectives may shift along with your understanding of why it is important to learn to unlearn, we call this unsettling. We all have the ability to be curious around how the impacts of federal policy have benefited conservation and disadvantaged tribes and tribal communities.

With this training we have the opportunity to learn about Native History in the US, and the resulting trust responsibility of the federal government as a byproduct of colonization. The training then dives into Tribes present day, where sovereignty and self-determination are explored and the third module leads us into culture and identities of Indigenous Peoples across what is now known as the US, with a learning objective to “offend Natives 50% less of the time AND engage with tribes 25% more effectively!”

Thank you to the Washington Chapter of TNC for leaning into our values, of One Conservancy to make this resource available to us all. This training is a wonderful place to start when thinking about how to engage Pillar 1 of the North America Indigenous Landscapes and Communities Program. I hope we can walk away from this training wanting to do more to lean in and contribute to the healing that is necessary to support conservation in partnership with Indigenous Communities. I hope you all enjoy this wonderful interactive curriculum called, Indian Country 101.

Canoe families representing tribes from around the Pacific Northwest travel from La Push to the West Coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington for the annual Canoe Journey.
Canoe Journey Canoe families representing tribes from around the Pacific Northwest travel from La Push to the West Coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington for the annual Canoe Journey. © Erika Nortemann/TNC

TNC’s Washington State staff partnered with The Whitener Group (TWG), a tribal member-owned consulting firm, to help conservationists work better with Native American tribes and other Indigenous Peoples. The result of this collaboration is a tuition-free, self-paced training for learners interested in gaining foundational knowledge to use in working and collaborating with tribes. Our hope is that conservation planners, project managers, leaders, and land managers — now and in the future — will be better equipped to engage tribal nations and leadership in a respectful and meaningful way.

Indian Country 101 Outline

National Overview:

IC 101 (A): Crash Course in Native History in the U.S.

IC 101 (B): Tribal Governments Today

IC 101 (C ): Identity, Citizenship & Culture

Washington State Overview:

IC 102 (A): Lets Hit the Treaty Trail

IC 102 (B): Washington Tribes Today

IC 102 (C ): Time to Talk Fish, Baby!

The Indian Country 101 courses will likely feel different than other training courses you have taken.

These materials were thoughtfully curated over several years and designed to give learners access to quality information and deeper understanding and perspective of the Native experience in the U.S. This six-course series provides an overview of tribes on a national level in Indian Country 101, and a deeper dive into working with tribes in Washington State in Indian Country 102.

Over the course of these trainings, you will benefit from the energy, heart, wisdom (and sarcasm!) that Jennifer Whitener Ulrich and The Whitener Group (Squaxin Island tribal member owned) have generously offered. You will take music breaks, learn about new binge-worthy TV, and most importantly hear stories from a generation of tribal leaders - Elders thru millennials - an incredible and unique opportunity.

Learners from all organizations, across public and private sectors, are encouraged to use these trainings as professional development tools for staff. We encourage external partners and supporters to help spread the word about these free, online training resources to grow a more tribally literate conservation community.

Start Your Training Today

This training is being delivered on TNC’s platform -- an open and free learning community that offers conservation-based training materials from The Nature Conservancy and our partner organizations. We offer over 400 hours of free online courses, many in multiple languages. Visit Indian Country 101 at to start your training today.

Makah Tribe Makah tribal members mount salmon on cedar pikes for slow smoking on the beach in Neah Bay. This ancestral method is handed down to each generation. © Cameron Karsten

What are people saying about Indian Country 101?

“The first three lessons offered in the online training contain foundational knowledge for any non-Native person hoping to partner productively with tribes in North America. I’ve committed to be a part of the first TNC cohort to go through this ‘Indian Country 101’ training over the next six months, and I’m honestly so excited! We know one of the largest barriers to non-tribal organizations partnering with tribes is the amount of pre-emptive education tribal leaders and representatives must provide about tribal sovereignty, fundamentals of being a tribal nation, basic terminology and cultural customs in order to move forward with complex negotiations. Indian Country 101 is one way that organizations like The Nature Conservancy can step up to begin to ease that burden."
—Jan Glendening,
North America Regional Managing Director, The Nature Conservancy


“Tribes are integral partners in achieving our environmental goals. The strength of that partnership depends on our knowledge and respect for the unique cultural and legal position that is supported by treaty rights. This training is an exciting step towards deepening that understanding.”
Regional Administer Casey Sixkiller, EPA Region X


“The Nature Conservancy’s Indian Country training courses help prepare natural resources practitioners to work more effectively with tribal governments. This modular, engaging resource is thorough, yet easy to follow. Attendees will come away with a better understanding of tribal cultures, tribal sovereignty, treaty rights, and tribal government structure—knowledge that can help build stronger and better relationships with tribes. Enhancing cultural awareness through this kind of training improves the sense of cooperation and collective effort throughout our state’s recovery community.”
Laura Blackmore, Executive Director, Puget Sound Partnership


“TNC’s Indian Country 101/102 online training resources provide a foundation for County staff to become informed and respectfully oriented for conducting government-to-government relations with Indian tribes. Our County Tribal Liaisons now have an additional tool that will help them stay focused on more substantive tribal engagement and relationship building efforts while still being able to train non-Native staff.”
Dow Constantine, King County Executive (13th-most populous County in the United States)


“This unique training series teaches much of our history and culture that was left out of the history books. If we want to get salmon recovery right, it’s imperative to understand complex concepts like treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. I was fortunate to work closely the late Billy Frank Jr.—a tireless advocate for tribal treaty rights and environmental stewardship.  For those who are not so fortunate as to have been mentored by Billy, this training aspires to the standard he set.  It aims to help learners understand Indian Country, legal and civic responsibilities with candor, humor, culture, and storytelling woven throughout.”
David Troutt, Natural Resources Director, Nisqually Indian Tribe + Chair, Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council


"As Chair of the Leadership Council of the Puget Sound Partnership I am extremely pleased to see this training being offered by the Nature Conservancy. Tribal Nations are sovereigns and are key leaders in restoring the health of Puget Sound and restoring our treasured salmon and orca populations. Providing this training is an important step to ensure that treaty rights are fulfilled and that entities like the Puget Sound Partnership are meeting our responsibilities."
Dennis McLerran, Chair, Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council


“Welcome to Indian Country 101 by Jenn Whitener Ulrich (from The Whitener Group) is one of the best learning tools I’ve engaged with recently. By weaving in multiple educational strategies with histories and context of our Native nations, Jenn masterfully creates an environment to help anyone better understand Native America. She pulls you in with creative storytelling and disarms you with her charm and charisma. And while you may feel that you benefit the most from the training, the ultimate gift Jenn gives is to Indian Country. She is nurturing future non-Native policymakers, administrators, and elected officials who will work with Native nations.”
Amy Besaw Memford, Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development


I think that Jenn did a fabulous job creating curating information for these Indian Country lessons—particularly given the massive scope of the undertaking. I loved her incorporation of humor and the personalized nature of the training, including a pronunciation guide, the educational and entertaining videos, encouraging people to think critically about land acknowledgements, the shoutouts to Native-owned companies, and her approach on the extremely difficult topic that is citizenship and blood quantum—all so useful! They also include some great resources on unrecognized and newly recognized Tribes’ struggles, explaining some of the sensitivity and complexity of relationships between recognized and unrecognized Tribes. I’m Chinook—from an unrecognized Washington and Oregon Tribe seeking our restoration - so I (of course) believe unrecognized Tribes should be included in 100% of outreach and engagement, particularly when conducting projects in their territory. Overall, I think this training is an incredible resource and (IC:101+102) should be a mandatory training for all TNCers working in Washington.”
Tiffany Waters, Global Aquaculture Manager, The Nature Conservancy


“As one of the first product testers, I went through the crash course (IC101a)—albeit a mildly intimidating whirlwind of thousands of years of history—and found myself craving more. I created a Spotify list of Jenn’s music recommendations, did a lesson on my phone while waiting for my son to finish gymnastics, listened to tribal voices talk Fish Wars on my commute. Such a trove of resources to be walked through by a friend! At times, I found myself cringing about things that never surfaced over a career working in natural resource management. How much more productive our work would be if we all took time to get smart on this history and context?”
—Jessie Israel, Puget Sound Conservation Director, The Nature Conservancy