This article, which looks at Indigenous communities in the multiethnic, multicultural region of Sabah, East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, argues that indigeneity is not primordial, but exists in relation to dominant identities as well as other non-dominant, Indigenous groups. Moreover, Indigenous Peoples are not passive recipients of colonial or even postcolonial Othering: their identity is contextualised and contested within majority–minority relations. The article begins with a brief history of the dominant Kadazandusun nationalism in Sabah, in the context of the overarching Bumiputra policy of Malaysia, which privileges constructed Malayness, as background to the discourses and practices of smaller groups of land-based Murut and the sea-oriented ‘Bajau’, where identity switching is taking place in tandem with environmental justice claims. The land-based communities (Murut) have found leverage in making identity and livelihood claims attached to place (here, state-declared forest reserves that seek to exclude them) in line with the recent global environmental justice focus on participatory conservation rather than the older ‘fortress conservation’ model still dominant in state conservation thinking. However, the sea-oriented peoples (Bajau) require other social symbols than land for making their identity claims, in this instance, via claims to ‘modern’ livelihoods and as managers of marine resources with reference to the newly established Tun Mustapha Park. In Sabah, participatory conservation is being reappropriated by Indigenous Peoples to assert claims about place and /or livelihoods; if bureaucratised, however, this form of conservation might turn out to be less than participatory.