Traditional Governance Systems

Traditional Governance Systems approaches to governance are ones that are led by local indigenous knowledge in collaborative and participatory processes.

Problems and Purpose

Broadly speaking, indigenous systems of governance are those that were practiced by local populations in pre-colonial times. Their "rediscovery" in modern times has led to an important decolonization of local and community management in order to pursue genuine self-determination. The implementation of these systems often requires the approval (and, in some less ideal cases) oversight by "sovereign" (colonial) government officials. Typically, the indigenous system of governance is used as the basis for more inclusive regulatory frameworks for environmental and food governance over a presiding resource or biodiversity system. While the basic framework of an indigenous management system is generalizable, it is (ideally) context dependent and conforms to local historical, social-cultural, political-economic, and ontological contexts. 

Modern "reinstatement" of these systems may involve the institutionalization (recognition of jurisdiction by colonial/settler governments) of indigenous governance and direct indigenous collaborative deliberation over land-use, practice, and distribution by affected community members. It builds off of longstanding traditional cultural practices, knowledge and ‘adapts’ them to the contemporary realities of the resource in question and the communities involved to create a more non-antagonistic, inclusive, and effective environmental regulation.

Origins and Development

Some indigenous systems of government date back hundreds of years. The North American Six Nations Iriquois - encompassing numerous Nations (indigenous groups) continue to practice a form of participatory democracy developed over 800 years ago.[1] Similarly, the Oromo people of Ethiopia have used the 'Gadaa' system of deliberative decision-making and community governance since the 15thC (approx.).[2]

Participant Recruitment and Selection

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How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

An example of a traditional, indigenous system of governance is the Ethiopian Qero Management System."Rediscovered" after hundreds of years, this collaborative and participatory form of environmental sustainability and conservation practice led by indigenous groups has now been adopted by the state for local management of the Gaussa-Menz grasslands. 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

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Analysis and Lessons Learned

There has been renewed interest in indigenous led forms of resource management and environmental conservation by policy practitioners and as outlined in the background papers for the United Nations post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. This has coincided with an increase in visibility – largely through the efforts of independent media, scholars, activists, and NGOs – of indigenous led social movements to re-appropriate resources and trusteeship, from corporations and governments, over the environments in which they live and depend. Given the realities of indigenous sovereignty within states, methods that allow indigenous communities to deliberate and form regulatory controls/institutions based on local knowledge, tradition, history, social-cultural, and political-economic contexts, become necessary for effective democratic and environmental governance.

See Also

The Ethiopian Qero Management System 


Ethiopian Qero Management of the Gaussa-Menz Grasslands 


[1] Bruce E. Johansen. (1995). Dating the Iroquois Confederacy. Akwesasne Notes New Series, 1(3), 62-63. 

[2] Participedia contributors. (2017). The Gadaa System of the Oromo People. 

External Links

Traditional Governance and Adapted Forms of Government 

FN Governance - Implementing traditional governance

The Dualism of Contemporary Traditional Governance and the State: Institutional Setups and Political Consequences