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Working Paper

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Indigenous peoples are frequently recognized as excellent stewards of their traditional territories. These territories, which often exhibit extraordinary levels of biodiversity, face disproportionate and growing threats from extractive industry. In opposing these threats, Indigenous peoples increasingly rely on internationally-defined Indigenous rights, including those set out in UNDRIP and ILO Convention 169. It is uncertain, however, how these rights are most effectively advanced. In this paper, I tease out strategies — both grassroots-based and litigation-based — that show promise in this regard. Drawing on Waorani resistance to an oil auction in Ecuador and Indigenous resistance to a large-scale mining project in Guatemala, I show that grassroots-based and litigation-based approaches, while necessarily context-specific, should be deployed in concert. I argue that the Waorani's success is derived from their robust, multi-faceted, and inclusive campaign. In contrast, Guatemalan resistance relied almost exclusively on a narrower grassroots-based approach, which may have limited impact. Even so, both case studies demonstrate that Indigenous rights-based arguments hold considerable promise vis-à-vis environmental protection.