Andrea Akall'eq Burgess Global director of Conservation in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities © Andrea Akall'eq Burgess/TNC


Q&A: Listening With Open Hearts

Global Director of Conservation in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
Andrea Akall'eq Burgess Global Director of Conservation in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. © Jason S. Ordaz
Andrea Akall'eq Burgess is TNC's Global Director of Conservation in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. Prior to coming to TNC, Andrea was Director of the Alaska Native Policy Center within First Alaskans Institute. She is also founder & owner of With Real People LLC, an Indigenous consulting firm dedicated to advancing truth and excellence through creative and strategic advocacy, policy guidance and facilitation. In addition, Andrea serves as co-founder and president of Native Peoples Action and as a trustee for the Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA).

Since our founding, a key measure of success for The Nature Conservancy has been how many acres we have helped protect. As that number has ticked up to more than 125 million, today we realize this simple statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. Much of the land we have helped protect was once, and in some cases still is, the territory of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. We spoke with Andrea Akall’eq Burgess, who leads TNC’s global work in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and local communities, to find out why that acknowledgment matters and how we are committing to actions that go beyond words. 

You are a Tribal citizen of the Native Village of Kwinhagak, a southwest Alaskan community with ties to the land, water and ice that stretch back countless generations. How did your upbringing shape your connection to nature?

In remote and rural Alaska there is no separation between people and nature. We are intrinsically interconnected with our natural environment—our survival depends on it. I grew up understanding how other species are a sacred part of human well-being that must be cared for, just as they provide care and sustenance for us. As a child, I  learned how local science, observations and traditional knowledge inform the community’s decisions.

We still have a way to go before Indigenous science and local knowledge are valued with equal regard to Western science. How do these approaches intersect today?

It has been 20 years since publication of Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s (Maori) influential work, “Decolonizing Methodologies,” which highlights the colonial attitudes inherent  in Western research processes. Since then, a proliferation of scholars and practitioners  has investigated how Indigenous and Western research methodologies differ and  converge, resulting in adaptations in modern practices. By understanding the inherent  differences, we can build upon them more equitably for the benefit of Earthkind.

How does TNC ensure that the rights, values, knowledge and priorities of Indigenous Peoples and local communities are honored and respected?

I’m proud that TNC supports the self-determination of Indigenous and local communities. We use a rights-based approach, which is further strengthened by our new Human Rights Guide. Our IPLC team and local staff use a community-of-practice approach that allows us to learn from and build lasting relationships with communities across the globe.

What are some examples of this work in action?

Toolkits, trainings and learning exchanges, grant and technical support, mapping and other expertise are commonly provided by TNC. The specifics vary from project to project, but one of my favorite examples is the KAWAKI Women’s Group. Led by  Indigenous women from three Solomon Island communities, KAWAKI aims to protect sea turtles and boost local ecotourism. The Conservancy has been involved since 1992,  supporting the creation of a marine protected area, helping to track turtles and promoting gender equity so women’s voices are heard.

What do you hope to see in TNC’s future?

As an organization we must listen with open hearts, always taking a supporting role when working with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Together, we can co-create lasting outcomes that protect nature, people, livelihoods and cultures.




The Nature Conservancy acknowledges the historic oppression and exclusion of Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the world from decision-making processes impacting their communities, lands and waters.

We have the opportunity and the responsibility to learn from our Indigenous and local community partners as we work to disrupt power imbalances, support self-determination and elevate their voices in conservation.

Our human rights-based approach to community-led conservation is guided by our code of conduct, our core value of trust and respect for people, communities and  cultures, and our commitment to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As an organization, this work advances our priorities and uplifts our values.