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This is a question I have been thinking about for a long time. I have been participating in activities promoting the rights of Indigenous Peoples for a few years. We do need to change the current injustice system that in general ignores the voices of Indigenous Peoples and disrespects our rights. However, when we are calling for changes, how can we make changes? I would like to share some points I generated from these years of experiences.
First of all, we should identify ourselves as the “rights’ holders”. We are responsible to secure and assert our rights, not depending on anyone else to do so for us. Indigenous peoples hold every right protected in international human rights instruments, just as any other individual in the world. When we recognize ourselves as the rights’ holders, we have a stronger stand. We are not given the rights, but born with those rights, even though they are not yet fully implemented. This attitude should be upheld.
Second, we should not “victimize” ourselves. Yes, there are many unjust policies that imposed great harm on us. It is true that we are not at a privileged position. But when we victimize ourselves, this status of mind often makes us weak and vulnerable. We might therefore expect others to help us. We might just sit there, without doing anything but hoping that someone will come and give us a hand. The problem here is that people think differently. What others think is good is not always good for us. The colonizers thought our way of living (e.g. hunting, collecting) was savage and backwards, so they forbidden us from doing so and changed our livelihood to the way of living they think is better. The governments thought we were not able to educate our children, so they stole the children and sent them to boarding schools for better/mainstream education and thus cut their connection to the cultural heritage.
The third point I would like to share is that we should not close the door to partnership by seeing everybody as enemy. There are always bad and good people, just like not every governmental actor is corrupt and not every businessman is greedy. Bad policies and behaviors should be corrected and punished, but when there is good idea coming up, even from the governments or private sector, why not give them and ourselves a chance?
Finally, I believe changes should be generated from ourselves. There are many NGOs and intergovernmental, governmental organizations are trying hard to “bring changes” to Indigenous communities worldwide. Of course they have done some great jobs to improve our living conditions and provided assistance in the development of the Indigenous population. However, from my point of view, they can only “bring different perspectives,” but not changes. Outsiders come and go, we are the one who stay and deal with everyday life on our own. Sustainable changes should be made from insiders, not from outsiders. Let’s think about all the colonizers. They have created pressure (or force) to change the Indigenous Peoples－our traditional way of living, our culture, our language, our relation to the nature and etc. To a certain degree Indigenous Peoples are changed, but with all the Indigenous movement and cultural revival, those changes in a way are slowly but surely reversed, to a different extent. There was a time we allowed others to make decisions for us. But now it is the time to make our own decisions! As I said, we are the rights’ holders and we have the responsibility to ensure and realize those rights ourselves.
This is a picture taken during a rally announcing the launch of the International Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation in Baguio City, the Philippines. Indigenous Peoples from Africa, Oceania, the Americas, Europe and Asia jointly generated this movement. Article by Jocelyn T.H. Hung Chien.