4 MIN READ
By CLEMENTE BAUTISTA/KALIKASAN
The Salween Peace Park and Karen people’s defense of land and life
The Salween Peace Park is a 5,200 square kilometer forest park in Hpapun District, Karen State. It is home to the Karen people, one of the biggest indigenous people groups in Myanmar.
From one generation to another, the Karen people have protected and defended the huge area overflowing with natural resources, high biodiversity, unique ecological landscape, along with the people’s rich cultural heritage.
On December 18, 2018, the Karen people formally declared the establishment of the Salween Peace Park. It is an aspiration came true on by the Karen which fighting to protect their Kawthoolei, the name of their ancestral homeland.
Almost a month after the establishment of the Salween Peace Park, a meeting was held on January 14-16, 2019. It was attended by solidarity missions both from the Philippines and Myanmar and had a meaningful community exchange and sharing on the experiences and lessons of grassroots organizations from Yes to Life No to Mining Network, International People’s Conference on Mining, and the International Indigenous People’s Movement for Self Determination and Liberation.
The Salween Peace Park is an example of a community-based, people initiative which help in protecting the environment, conserve our resources and respect the rights of communities. This an example of an emblematic case which successful in stopping destructive projects like big dams and large-scale mining.
The Salween Peace Park ensures the ecological conservation and people-centered resource management in the area. At the same time, the people continue to actively confront great challenges and grave threats from the power generation and commercial mineral extraction projects that the Burmese government wants to implement in the area.
For more than a decade, the Karen people have been opposing the construction of the 1,365 MegaWatt Hatgyi Dam which is being pushed by the Burmese government along with Thai and Chinese companies.
However, the historic struggle of the Karen people and their triumph in protecting Salween Peace Park prove that they will never bow down to such exploitation and destruction. The majestic land and river of Salween bears witness to this commitment of the people to defend land and life.
Part of the community’s collective efforts is the formation of training programs for its members. KESAN with the Karen people has built an Indigenous Eco-Training Center, which they collectively operate and maintain under the supervision of KESAN staff based in Mutraw District.
They cultivate their own organic farmlands, grow free-range chicken and swine. The training center has also hosted several training and activities that includes the use and transfer of indigenous knowledge and introduction of new technologies for the betterment of people’s lives.
Karen men and women work hand in hand in continuous development of the community. It also notable that Karen women are also in charge of gathering wood and leaves in the forest to build their houses.
The culture of weaving to produce the indigenous attire of the Karen people is very much alive in the community. Materials like cotton, thread and color dye are readily available in their forest. Members of the community keep wearing their traditional attire as cultural pride and as a result, kept the existence of weaving among the Karen people.
The peace that ushered in Salween Peace Park is largely due to Karen people’s struggle to protect their community and uplift the lives of their people. However, genuine peace — when there is no more threat to their lives remains a dream to be fulfilled.
Amid all these, the Karen people continue to assert their right to self-determination. With the establishment of Salween Peace Park as “a space of peace, self-determination, environmental integrity, and cultural survival,” the Karen people have re-envisioned their indigenous territories that they shall pass on to the next generation.