Indigenous people spearhead the fight to save the planet

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Jill Carino, executive director of the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights ... "The solution to the climate and biodiversity crises that we face in the world today lies in our collective will and strength to fight against capitalist greed." Image: Jill Carino/EJN

By Imelda V. Abano in Manila

Indigenous people across the world are disproportionately affected by climate change. They are also leading movements to protect our forests, water and other natural resources.

“Respect and value indigenous peoples – their rights, their knowledge and values, their land and resources that they have kept healthy through generations, their cultures and identities, and their valuable contribution to society as environment defenders,” says Jill Carino, executive director of the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights, a national network of 11 non-governmental organisations working with indigenous communities in different regions in the Philippines.

“The solution to the climate and biodiversity crises that we face in the world today lies in our collective will and strength to fight against capitalist greed and build just, sustainable, self-determining, and resilient communities,” she says.

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Carino has been working to defend indigenous peoples’ rights since 1980 when, after graduating from college, she started working with the Cordillera Studies Programme of the Cordillera Schools Group based in Baguio City in the Northern Philippines.

The programme was researching indigenous peoples’ culture and issues and conducted leadership trainings for high school students in mission schools in the Cordillera region. Since then, she has worked with different non-governmental organisations to advance the rights of indigenous peoples to defend their land and resources from destruction.


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Carino founded the Cordillera Peoples Alliance in 1984, which leads research, education initiatives and networking for the defense of ancestral land and self-determination of Cordillera indigenous people.

“Indigenous peoples possess traditional knowledge, values and practices that care for the environment and make our communities resilient to climate change,” Carino says.

Indigenous knowledge
Values of inayan (avoiding doing harm to others and the community), ob-obbo (community cooperation), and practices such as lapat and batangan (sustainable forest management) are valuable pieces of indigenous knowledge that help protect the community from threats brought about by climate change and environmental degradation.

However, these values and practices are weakening, are often disregarded or under-valued and lack recognition and support from the authorities, says Carino.

The work indigenous women are doing is particularly notable, she adds. As executive director of the Women Workers Programme from 1990-2000, Carino organised indigenous women in mining communities in the province of Benguet and actively campaigned together with local peoples organisations against the Benguet Corporation’s open-pit mining operations.

The campaign prevented the planned expansion of open-pit mining to other communities in Itogon.

In addition to leading the Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights (TFIP), she also served as executive director of the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Centre, which works with regional women’s alliances.

“We have always been advancing indigenous women’s rights and issues to promote the leading and active role of women in the people’s movement for land, food and rights,” she says.

Carino works at a regional level, too, on initiatives that seek to strengthen indigenous peoples’ voices and defend their lands from extractive operations. She worries that development projects also increasingly threaten indigenous communities with displacement for the sake of what the government often defines as the national interest.

Destructive projects
Destructive projects such as the Kaliwa, Kanan and Laiban dams are being forced upon indigenous communities despite their opposition and protests, and despite the adverse social and environmental impacts that contribute to global warming.

“This is all because these projects fall within the misplaced priorities of the national government, are tied to foreign loans or official development assistance, and will bring in profits and other benefits to private investors,” Carino says.

Under the leadership of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, indigenous peoples, rights defenders and environmental activists face serious threats to their lives and security, say groups that monitor such risks.

The Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights has documented many cases of extra-judicial killings, trumped-up charges, illegal arrest and detention, vilification, harassment, intimidation, bombings and other rights violations that occur alongside the violation of indigenous peoples collective rights to their land and resources in the course of development aggression.

“All these are issues and challenges that weaken or hinder indigenous peoples’ agency and resilience against climate change and environmental destruction,” Carino explained. “We can try to overcome these challenges by building strong peoples organizations, and building their capacity to fight for their rights, with the broad support of the wider community,”

Indigenous peoples need to be recognised and respected for what they can contribute for our future, she continued.

“My hope is for the global community to realize that we are facing a climate and biodiversity emergency that needs urgent action from all of us if we are to pass on to the future generations a healthy planet and a just society,” Carino says.

Imelda Abaño is content coordinator for the Earth Journalism Network’s (EJN) Asia-Pacific project. She is an award-winning Philippine environmental journalist and media trainer who has been covering climate change, energy, agriculture, biodiversity and other environmental issues for more than 18 years. Abaño is also founding president of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists. Republished with permission from EJN.

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