Board members

IWGIA's international Board is the highest governing body of the organisation and works in close cooperation with our Executive Director. The Board consists of seven members and one staff observer. Two members of the Board are elected by and among our members, three members are appointed by the Board, two members are recruited by the Board from organisations with a particular expertise in indigenous/human rights, and one staff observer is elected by the secretariat staff.


Ida Theilade, Chair of the Board

Ida Theilade has a PhD in tropical botany from the University of Copenhagen and has worked with participatory management and conservation of tropical forests for the past 25 years. The research explores the role local and indigenous knowledge and institutions can play in natural resource governance. This includes natural forests and human-modified environments such as protected forests, agro-ecosystems and community forests, at any ecological scale i.e. from genes to ecosystems. Current research centers on local and indigenous knowledge and its uses in community monitoring of forests, as for example in REDD+, and co-benefits for biodiversity and social well-being.

Project portfolio includes basic and applied research and advisory services on livelihoods, management and conservation. Capacity building in developing countries and dissemination of research results to a wider audience is an integral part of Ida Theilade’s work as a Professor in ethnobotany and Forest Governance at the University of Copenhagen. She has been a member of the IWGIA Board since September 2019 and became Chair of the Board in January 2020.


Rune Fjellheim, Vice-Chair

Rune Fjellheim is an indigenous Sámi economist who has been serving as the Director General of the Sámi Parliament of Norway since 2008 and has been involved in the parliament since 1991. Prior to that position, he served as the Executive Secretary of the Arctic Council Indigenous People’s Secretariat.

He is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Arctic Research Centre at the Autonomous University of Barcelona  and is Co-chair of the Ája Indigenous Peoples' Rights Foundation. He became a member of the IWGIA Board in January 2020.


René Kuppe

Dr. René Kuppe is a retired law professor from University Vienna/Austria whose academic work is centered on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, with a focus on Indigenous legal philosophies; Indigenous legal systems; protection of traditional Indigenous beliefs and religions; and sustainable development and Indigenous Peoples. He has been involved in international law practice and legal policy work related to Indigenous Peoples’ rights, including work on the development of Indigenous autonomy arrangements and jurisdiction systems in Latin America, demarcation of Indigenous territories in Venezuela, and promoting the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ property systems in the Arctic. Based on his legal background and working relationships with Indigenous organisations he has been active in campaign work, most recently in the “German Koordinationskreis ILO 169” campaign, which led to the ratification of ILO Convention 169 by Germany in 2021. He joined the IWGIA board in January 2022.


Dr. Elifuraha Laltaika

Dr. Elifuraha Laltaika is a Senior Law Lecturer at Tumaini University Makumira (Arusha, Tanzania) and holds a Doctorate in Law from the University of Arizona. From 2017-2019, he served as an expert member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. He recently served as a Harvard Law School Visiting Scholar to examine extractive industry and community rights under International Law. Prior to that, he was a Senior Indigenous Fellow at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Among other accolades, he is the 2022 recipient of the Stilvana Kravchenko Environmental Rights Award – awarded annually to appreciate a scholar from anywhere in the world whose work empowers communities – recognizing his “broad impact in the law while working to support local communities”.

Dr. Laltaika is Maasai, born and raised in the pastoralist Indigenous community in Ngorongoro, Tanzania. Since 2005, he has consistently worked on Indigenous Peoples issues at the national, regional and international levels, including training high court judges and practicing lawyers on Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Tanzania, through IWGIA support. He recently took a leave from his university to work on business and human rights in the extractive sector. He became a member of the IWGIA Board in January 2023.


Maria Bierbaum Oehlenschläger

Maria Bierbaum Oehlenschläger has worked in the field of media and communication since graduating in 2009 as a master in Comparative Literature and African Studies from the University of Copenhagen and the Humboldt University of Berlin. Postcolonial literature studies as well as race, class and gender studies were her primary research topics.

As a communication officer, Maria Bierbaum Oehlenschläger has mainly been engaged in international development, Indigenous Peoples’ rights and human rights. She has worked for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, first serving as an intern at the Danish Mission to the UN in Geneva and later working at the former Centre of Culture and Development based in Copenhagen. In periods she has worked at the Danish media outlet Altinget as opinion editor and most recently as head of proof reading. In 2016 Maria had the pleasure of working at the IWGIA secretariat as a communication and press officer. Now she is at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Maria joined the IWGIA board in 2021.


Sara Olsvig

Sara Olsvig is the International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and a Ph.D. Candidate at Ilisimatusarfik, the University of Greenland. Olsvig is a member of Greenland’s Human Rights Council and an assigned member of the Constitutional Commission of Greenland. She served as member of the Parliament of Denmark and the Parliament of Greenland in the years 2011 to 2018. She has been leader of the political party Inuit Ataqatigiit and was Vice Premier and Minister of Social Affairs, Families, Gender Equality and Justice in the Government of Greenland from 2016 to 2018.

Olsvig holds a master's of science degree in Anthropology and has previously worked as Executive Director for the Inuit Circumpolar Council Greenland. Sara is Inuk and lives in Nuuk, Greenland with her partner and their children. She has been a member of the IWGIA Board since May 2019.


Elsa Stamatopoulou

Elsa Stamatopoulou joined Columbia University in 2011 after 31 years of service at the United Nations with some 22 years dedicated to human rights, in addition to eight years exclusively devoted to indigenous peoples’ rights. Indigenous issues were part of her formal portfolio since 1983 and she became the first Chief of the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2003.

She is now the first Director of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia. Her academic background is in law, international law, criminal justice and political science (Athens Law School, Vienna University, Northeastern University and Graduate Institute of International Studies at the University of Geneva). She has received various awards, including the Ingrid Washinawatok El Issa O’Peqtaw Metaehmoh-Flying Eagle Woman Peace, Justice and Sovereignty Award and the Innovation in Academia Award for Arts & Culture, 2016, by the University of Kent (UK). In 2016, she was featured as one of the UN’s 80 Leading Women from 1945-2016. She became a member of the IWGIA Board in January 2020.


Julie Marion, Staff Observer

Julie is IWGIA’s Donor Relations Manager and Fundraiser. Her beating heart for human rights led her to join IWGIA in April 2018. She learnt the ropes of fundraising and donor relations at the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, Switzerland. After enriching experiences with the UN and the private sector, she chose to go back to supporting human rights through what she knows best: raising funds for the cause. Julie holds a Master’s degree in humanitarian law and human rights from the University of Aix-en-Provence in France.




IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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