The Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC), an upland indigenous school in Bendum, Bukidnon in northern Mindanao, Philippines invited Ms Victoria “Vicky” Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as the key speaker during the student graduation activity on 28 March. APC runs a Kinder to Grade 12 basic culture-based education program for youth in the Upper Pulangi watershed and is formally recognized by the Philippine Department of Education.
Vicky shared her work and experiences as she listened to the concerns and activities of indigenous groups in many parts of the world from the Amazon, the Congo Basin, in Latin America. She stressed the distinct role and contribution of Indigenous Peoples in protecting and managing critical ecosystems, biodiversity, forest and water resources, hence locally and globally, indigenous communities with their knowledge and practices have much to share.
Vicky also explained the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that established in September 2007 “a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of Indigenous Peoples of the world and elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms.”
Ecojesuit shares the key points of Vicky’s address to the Pulangiyen youth:
1. The role of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is to write reports about issues faced by Indigenous Peoples globally. If no one reports these, they will not be given attention.
Indigenous Peoples need to understand what is happening in mainstream society globally because this will help them think of ways to better protect their lands, values, languages, and culture. Whether we like it or not, Indigenous Peoples are affected by decisions made by corporations and governments.
There are laws internationally (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and locally (such as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act in the Philippines) that aim to protect indigenous rights, but these are still violated and not implemented well.
Indigenous Peoples need to understand these laws so they can assert their rights and not think of themselves as weak or pitiful.
2. We need to share models of best practices in culture-based education, of which APC is one.
There are 7,000 languages globally, and 5,000 of these are spoken by Indigenous Peoples. The UN proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages because many of these languages are endangered. We need to make a conscious effort to sustain these for the generations to come.
Eighty percent of the world’s biodiversity is in ancestral lands. Governments must help Indigenous Peoples in protecting these lands. They need to understand the role of indigenous communities in sustaining the environment and must not drive them away from their ancestral domain.
There is a need to have more schools similar to APC in different parts of the Philippines to strengthen culture-based education. The government has a duty to respect the right of Indigenous Peoples to a culturally-relevant and appropriate education. This is key in addressing the environmental and cultural crisis.
The dasang of the Pulangiyēn, the hudhud of the Ifugao, are not merely rituals. This is where the youth will understand where they come from, their values, and their responsibility in the community. These remind us who we are, what is important to us, and what we can contribute to the world.
3. Importance of community
The APC school is different from other schools in that the school is considered an integral part of the community. Its goal is not only to teach the youth to read and write, but to sustain the culture.
Bendum is different from other communities because it remains peaceful, while other neighboring barangays evacuated or were militarized. The peace is sustained because of the unity of the community.
For Indigenous Peoples, the community is not only the present. The past and the future are also part of the community. We learn from the past, sustain our ancestors’ tradition, knowledge, and values, and in everything we do, we think of the impact seven generations in the future, or the seven-generation ethic.
The flora and fauna are also part of the community, as well as the visible and invisible, the living and non-living things.
4. The gaup (pronounced ga-oop) or ancestral domain for Indigenous Peoples all over the world, is not just a source of knowledge but also the source of life. It does not only sustain their livelihood but is the source of their identity (such as the, Pulangiyēn from the Pulangi), wisdom, and culture.
This is what makes Indigenous Peoples distinct from people in mainstream society who do not have a relationship with the land, water, biodiversity, thus it is so easy for them to destroy the environment and unsustainably exploit natural resources.
A common wisdom from indigenous cultures around the world is to take care of the environment because they know they are part of it and if the environment is destroyed, they destroy themselves.
It is important for the youth to always go back to their roots. Wherever they go after graduation, they must never forget their community, and always think of ways to help improve its situation. “You do not just study to understand the world; you study so you can change the world.”