On Palawan Island, a place long known as the Philippines’ “last frontier” and now recognized globally as a “biodiversity hotspot,” indigenous leaders face a predicament. Under Philippine law, the leaders of recognized indigenous communities are expected to participate in the development and enforcement of environmental regulations. But, on Palawan, the authority of state-appointed “chieftains” remains uncertain because it lacks any basis in the radically egalitarian social system of the indigenous population. This predicament, I contend, embodies a fundamental contradiction of postcolonial statecraft, wherein policies of recognition often have transformative implications for the very populations they seek to protect. In an effort to better understand this contradiction, I will carry out ethnographic fieldwork at the site of an internationally funded conservation project in Palawan’s southern forests. I will ask, first, how differing notions of indigenous political authority shape the implementation of new environmental regulations and, second, how this variation relates to broader processes of social and environmental change. Scientists and policy-makers increasingly stress the need for local participation in environmental regulation, but efforts to heed their calls often meet with unanticipated political and cultural complications. My research will offer an ethnographic account of how such complications develop in a context where profound differences of culture and power separate minority populations from the officials who seek their cooperation. In this way, I aim to make a valuable contribution to the anthropology of postcolonial statecraft, the political ecology of environmental regulation, and the cross-regional study of indigeneity.