All That Fits: Narratives of encouragement and hope


What keeps you going?

I think this was among the constant questions asked from on Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders (IPHRD) Network to another during Defending the Defenders: New Alliances for Protecting Indigenous Peoples Rights that happened this week here in Copenhagen. Congratulations to our friends at the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) for successfully organising and hosting the affair, the timing was never better.

So back to the question. You see, the conference was interesting in format: panel presentors could ask each other a question before the plenary pitches in. Testimonies, reflections, panel debates and parallel sessions allowed for engagement between and among the IPHRDs and advocates. Of course, the facilitator was excellent in synthesizing, managing the time and throwing questions at the speakers—talk-show type (by the way this is a good format, I’d like to try this sometime with me as the host).

So I asked this same question to Toribia Lero Quisope, an IPHRD belonging to the Ayllu Tapacari from the Andean region of Bolivia during our panel presentation (in testimonials). In an earlier panel presentation, I remember IPHRD Sarah Palakara from Tanzania also asked this question to another presentor. In that gathering, for all the dismalness of situation of IPHRDs worldwide, we were actually looking at each other for encouragement and inspiration. We wanted to know each other’s secret formulas. But there is no such thing. Only the truths of commitment, inspiration even from small victories, and I think the capacity to self-mock or laugh at yourself even when you need to. After all we are only human.

And then IPHRD Daniel Kobei from Kenya comments that he is amazed at the active role of IP women in the Philippines (not to say there are no men)—it is inspirational in the same way that women in his indigenous Ogiek community demonstrate. In my response I forgot to tell you, Daniel, that women hold up half of the sky.

And then there is one analogy that captures the strategies that need to be done to attain indigenous peoples’ quest for social justice. It came out from the session Land Rights, where CPA colleague and now co-convenor of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group (IPMG) for Sustainable Development. It is called the rice-cooker analogy put forward by Joan who was among the session’s speakers. So firstly you should know how to cook rice (uray saan nga rice cooker) to get this: to cook the rice correctly it will need heat properly distributed above and below. It will need the right amount of water to cook, and you should be attentive if the rice will need more water tapnu malinay. Applying it to IP struggles, it means that a combination of strategies and methods with specific targets must be in place. It means that a strong IP movement on the ground would vibrantly contribute to national and international movements, complimentary. It means that campaigns must be grounded and done at multi-levels. It means that both dialogue and dissent is needed. I am sure all 140 participants left the conference with this unforgettable analogy.

On core messages: we were asked to speak about criminalisation of IPHRDs in the Philippines, on how systemic, legalised and institutionalised it has become in the country by virtue of its legal framework (the Human Security Act), the State machinery for carrying out the criminalisation and the false charges upon IPHRDs. That these IPHRDs under attack or already killed are not just growing numbers, they are people whom we know—colleagues and friends who have given the best years of their lives in defense of human rights. That is why activism can never be terrorism. Terrorist-tagging must be condemned because it makes everyone, especially HRDs, open targets of all forms of human rights violations. It has the malicious intent of insinuating a mindset that it is okay for these individuals to be persecuted or killed because they are terrorists. Never has an injustice been so wicked—now that is terrorism.

Some other reflections I have from the event are these: that no matter how bleak the situation is now, let us not lose hope. Kasiyana. We are not alone in this journey. And no matter how bleak the situation may be, let us not lose sight of our achievements. We need all the encouragement to keep on.

So we wrapped up the two days on doable action plans centered on three main themes: criminalisation, land rights and access to justice. The work begins. #


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