Indigenous Planning for Tribal Communities of Ziro, Arnachal Pradesh


“Indigenous planning” is an emergent paradigm to reclaim historic, contemporary, and future-oriented planning approaches for Indigenous communities across Ziro Valley of Lower Subansari district, Arunachal Pradesh. This research seminar will examine the prevailing tribal communities and settlements of Ziro valley. Results point to the worth of visioning Indigenous futures, Indigenous leadership and authority, and also the need for institutional development.
The vision of planning for Indigenous tribal communities’ interconnect with planning concerns. These goals include preserving language and culture, building governance and planning systems, investing in community health and wellness, practicing sustainable resource management, establishing self-reliant economies, developing sustainable food and energy systems and improving community housing and infrastructure.
As caretakers and protectors of land, planners are expected to recognize when and the way to have interaction appropriately with Indigenous populations in respect to land use, development and preserving the culture at the similar time.
This research explores the perceptions and understandings of planning with Indigenous peoples which will be guided by the subsequent objectives:

  1. Cultural protection and enhancement
  2. social cohesion and well being
  3. improved environment quality and quantity
  4. political autonomy and advocacy
  5. economic development and distribution.

For the purposes of this research, Indigenous Planning will be understood as an enlightened approach to planning, which prioritizes reconciliation, the improvement of Indigenous lives from the perspective of Indigenous communities themselves, and the rebalancing of power within the planning system in colonized spaces. In Indigenous Planning practices, there is an opportunity for planners and communities to initiate recognition of both types of knowledge: Indigenous and traditional. It is through this dual understanding and legitimacy that planners may decolonize their ways of thinking about knowing. The method requires the adoption of collaborative planning or therapeutic planning models which better coincide with Indigenous ways of knowing.


On 12th December, 2002 on a summit of Archaeological survey of India (ASI), Ziro valley was selected for inclusion in the tentative list for further nomination to UNESCO for engraving in the World Heritage site. Later on, 15th April, 2014 - Ziro was finally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Ziro is a census town in Lower Subansari district in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh enclosed by blue rolling hills and topographically cut off from the rest of the inhabited areas of the region. The Ziro valley grants an instance of how co-existence of man and nature have been perfected over the centuries by the Apatani tribe. The valley lies in the lower ranges of the eastern Himalayas comprising of about 32 of cultivable areas out of 1058 plateau, undulated by small hillocks at an elevation of 1525 MSL to mountain regions ranging from 1830 to 2900 MSL.
The Apatanis are one of the foremost ethnic tribe of eastern Himalayas with a distinct civilization with systematic land use practices and rich traditional ecological knowledge of natural resources management and conservation, acquired over the centuries through informal experimentation. The Apatanis 'traditional customs and traditions are essential to the preservation of the sustainable structure that exists today. The developed framework for addressing any significant issue of society as volunteer groups is the basis of such activities. This structure guarantees every member's involvement in group works and promotes a deep sense of ownership.
Agro-forestry activities in the Ziro valley with definite areas such as grazing grounds, sacred groves, plantations, etc. have helped to maximize the use of limited land to generate various resources while maintaining agriculture with increased yields. Within today's environment such conventional ecological awareness has special importance.
The availability of irrigation water, which makes it possible to grow wet rice at Ziro, is due to the efficient protection of the forests around the valley, which forms the critical watershed for the streamlines that flow down the fields. This is possible thanks to strict customary laws regulating forest resource use and hunting practices. Traditional respect for nature plays important roles. In a world where gross misuse of nature is a major concern these activities are of great importance.

Human Settlement and Land-use

The Apatanis are known for their judicious use of limited land area which developed from centuries-old experimentation. Distinct human settlement areas, wet rice cultivation, dry agriculture, community burial grounds, pine and bamboo gardens, private plantations, and community forests are available. It is an example of a highly effective process for human adaptation to the rigor and constraints of upland regions, and hence of outstanding universal importance.Traditional activities of tribal people harvesting forest resources, well-known for their survival but increasingly declining in other parts of the world, continue to be seen among the Apatanis. Such traditions have been kept alive by the continued presence of clear customary rules and moral creed. Although even strict laws frequently fail to follow these activities, the Apatani traditions have not only helped man to exploit the resources in the forest in an efficient way, but have also helped to preserve them effectively. These are of fundamental interest as these set examples of sustainable natural resource management.
Ziro Valley's wet rice cultivation system is extensive, especially when compared to the surrounding tribal regions where crops are practiced in change. Notwithstanding restricted water supplies a network of carefully built irrigation channels is well watering the entire expanse of the agricultural area in the valley. Such an innovative traditional method is setting useful examples, especially in the face of the impending global warming and water shortage threats around the world.


This research explores the perceptions and understandings of planning with Indigenous peoples which will be guided by the subsequent objectives:

  1. Cultural protection and enhancement
  2. social cohesion and well-being
  3. improved environment quality and quantity
  4. political autonomy and advocacy
  5. economic development and distribution.

While similar to other urban planning priorities, indigenous planning focuses on rebalancing control and improving the socio-economic status of indigenous peoples (Matunga, 2013). Indigenous planning is focused on the recognition of post-modernism that planning as a practice and operation is not value-neutral (Anderson, 2013; Walker and Belanger, 2013).
Alternatively, planning as actually practiced is heavily informed by Western values and expertise, which often submerges the traditional ethnicity and cultural values, resemblance and significance in a long run (urbanization).
Planners, both indigenous and non-indigenous, may play a role in achieving these objectives. The task of the Indigenous Ally Planner is not to neglect their preparation, but to extend their understanding to include Indigenous peoples as allies. Indigenous planning is about returning Indigenous culture and thinking to traditional planning, not by changing culture, but by making space for its life (Matunga, 2013, p. 26). This is a framework and a planning approach that "aims to restore the historical, current and future-oriented planning approaches of indigenous societies through western settlers" (Prusak et al., 2015, p. 440).
For the purposes of this study, Indigenous Planning will be interpreted as a holistic approach to planning that prioritizes reconciliation, the development of Indigenous life from the viewpoint of Indigenous peoples themselves, and the rebalancing of power within the planning structure in colonized spaces. Indigenous planning activities offer an incentive for planners and communities to promote awareness of all forms of knowledge: indigenous and traditional. It is through this dual understanding and authority that planners will decolonize their way of thinking about information. The approach includes the adoption of collaborative planning or therapeutic planning models that are ideally suited to Indigenous ways of learning (Sandercock, 2004b).


SIncluding Indigenous peoples right from the BeginningThe inclusion of indigenous peoples is a clear and successful way of allowing good use of indigenous knowledge. Include them at all stages, from the beginning of the pre-planning process, all the way to the control and management of the project and, finally, in the assessment process. The use of local information would be brought to bear on the related issues at various levels. In this way, the entire indigenous knowledge network is in place in the project, without the expense of building an information base from indigenous peoples.
One common mistake is to expect too much and make assumptions about the project without consulting the local community. It is likely to offend indigenous peoples and threaten the whole enterprise. You may be used to dealing with governments first. Since governments often make important decisions to implement policies in isolation from the parties involved, it is easy to make that mistake. Indigenous peoples want to be able to give free, prior informed consent to all construction projects.
Encouraging the community to choose their own RepresentativesBe sure that the group or individuals who will represent the community already have a collective agreement to represent them. A number of different ways of representation are not appropriate:
Seek not to use a government-appointed neighbourhood leader.
Seek not to use a member of the government staff as a community leader only because he or she is an indigenous person. Ensure that the group has the opportunity to determine the credentials of the individual and decide that the individual is an acceptable representative.
Be careful to differentiate between tribal leaders who have the community's support to represent them and tribal leaders who are only involved in brokering a deal.
Look out for tribal dealers. Often a tribal dealer, who does not have a mutual agreement, may decide to "approve" the project in exchange for the provision of basic services. Make sure the society agrees with this strategy.
Integration of Botanical Knowledge and Practices into a Reforestation ProjectApatanis are well known for their knowledge of medicinal plants that have played an important role in the conservation of biodiversity, and sustainable forest management and home gardening practices can also be incorporated into the project. Since the selection and cultivation of plants for herbal medicines was a significant source of income for people, the cultivation of these plants can be incorporated into the tree planting project. This will help to ensure the involvement of local farmers in ecological restoration, which in turn increases the economic return on investment in reforestation.
Trees may be planted in terraces: i.e. horizontal bands of original vegetation (shrubs and grasses) contrast with bands planted with tree seedlings. Indigenous plants are retained in the initial vegetation bands, which often avoid soil erosion. The cultivation of wild medicinal plants can be a traditional source of income. Most of the plants can be used locally, but most of them can be exported. Farmers will clear fields to cultivate plants on a wide scale in addition to cultivating them in their home gardens. This indigenous model of agroforestry — meaning that people know exactly which plants to cultivate and how to cultivate — was integrated into the development projects.
This not only retains the local practices of forest management, but also encourages the involvement of local citizens in conservation projects. This activity can generate jobs for local citizens and guarantees their participation in the project. This eliminates the need for large-scale spending by government and development agencies.
Forming Policies with foundation of Sustainability of Quality of Life for Indigenous PeoplesAs these polices are planned, it is important to note that contact with indigenous peoples is popular in projects aimed at extracting natural resources or building infrastructure away from the urban centre. Developing policies that promote the involvement of indigenous peoples in the construction, management and economic base that result from these projects prevents conflict and strengthens the capacity of indigenous peoples. Those same policies must be based on the idea that aboriginal peoples have the inherent right to use their inherent resources.
Governments need to support their indigenous communities by integrating traditional and scientific expertise in cooperative projects. This will allow participants in these projects to understand how to handle the population of wild stocks under various regimes:

  1. natural traditional management models,
  2. market-based management transition, and
  3. complete market-based management.


verall, this research showed that while planners are keen to learn about Indigenous peoples and how to best communicate with them, there was little guidance about how to address this field of planning at the municipal level. It had been found that the participation of indigenous peoples was largely positive and established a clear 'Indigenous as Self-Government' framework to direct planners in action. Through individual initiative, work of planning departments, as well as hands-on learning engaging with Indigenous communities that a planner can be guided in Indigenous engagement.
The role of the diverse indigenous peoples present in the country is evolving, as is the field of planning. However, the changes will involve a significant shift in the way planners view their work, especially at the municipal level. Planning is often seen as technical, but what this work shows is that a rational and pragmatic approach is not adequate to cultivate the partnerships required to communicate with indigenous communities and to attempt to address centuries of broken promises.


  • Combining Knowledge: Exploring Knowledge of Indigenous Needs and Planning Practices among Practicing Planners by Nicole Goodbrand
  • Indigenous Knowledge in Project Planning and Implementation/
  • Research Article: Toward Indigenous Planning? First Nation Community Planning in Saskatchewan, Canada
  • Indigenous Planning: from Principles to Practice by Libby Porter