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This is Our Legacy!

A Reflection on the Voice Knowledge Exchange 2019

 – By Pitra Hutomo, Project Coordinator, Engage Media, Linking and Learning Facilitator, Indonesia

Upon knowing Voice’s Knowledge Exchange title, “Indigenous Women Rising”, I remember feeling a mixture of excitement and yearning. My learning process about Indigenous People’s rights has always been solely based on exposure to land rights movements. Maybe this exchange will provide a better understanding of the topic

I am grateful to have spent the three days in the Philippines with strong characters from across the globe, predominantly women who have embraced the community’s struggles as their own.

Pitra sharing her views during one of the sessions

The event’s structure and methodology are gradually revealed and periodically reviewed with participants. I could tell from the time we stepped into minibuses which took us outside the busy capital city of Manila to the highlands of Baguio, the Voice team had prepared us to share and learn from each other in an intimate, secluded, peaceful setting.

Upon entering Baguio we are greeted with promotional signs for tourism, dubbing the town as a Summer Capital of The Philippines. I have mixed feelings about this. Our part of the town was calm and lush. Later I find out, the region had lost several mountains due to massive extraction of minerals. This I learned during a visit to the indigenous community of Itogon where we were warmly welcomed and had the opportunity to experience the community’s shared vision in sustaining autonomy.

Community sharing session at Itogon

The people of Itogon resisted against open-pit mining since the 1980s with women taking the frontline. After all, don’t we always? I wondered. Today the struggle of the ‘Itogonians’ is led by the younger generation, particularly with the leadership of young women in community organising. It focuses on instilling the same values of courage and respect for the land. For me, the people of Itogon represent ethnic groups and settlers in Indonesia who have resisted the after effects of open-pit mining such as displacement and environmental crises. More often than not previous mining sites are decorated (not rehabilitated) as a tourism spot.  This has left problems such as displacement unresolved and ignored hence normalising land grabbing and worsening environmental crises

I let my mind wander as we returned. I reflect on the day. Participants from Africa and Asia take turns to share their experiences and it is clear that it is a common cause that makes women persist in the struggle. This persistence is shown through art expression. Sharing what our drawings meant, expressing thoughts through clay and found objects, allowing us to sleep with profound inspiration. It has been a heavy day.

Artwork presentations by the participants

Finally, on the last day, we formulate possible collaborations based on issues, expertise, and experience or geographical connections. There are plans to nurture long term development from within ethnic communities, making legal protection accessible for Indigenous People’s rights defenders, gathering expertise in customary law and especially opening pathways for young Indigenous Women to rise even higher and in multitudes.

We go back to Manila the next day, early in the morning. The smell of burning wood from the campfire site of the previous night still on my mind. Our burning questions were swallowed in flames as we danced to the sound of percussions.

I brought a token home. A small bracelet made of red, black, green and white beads. It’s a prop for my stories to the little girl we are raising. I hope when the time comes she can embrace her community’s struggle as her own.

Voice thanks Pitra, the Project Coordinator from Engage Media, the Linking & Learning Facilitator for Voice Indonesia, for this article and Engage media for the role they played during the Knowledge Exchange of Indigenous Women’s Rising held in February 2019 in the Philippines


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