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August 11, 2008

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Nature and culture- these are the two pillars that define the lives of the indigenous peoples all over the world. Nature as their wealth and culture as their identity. Nature has given the indigenous people the land they live in, the food, shelter, as well as their medicine. Centuries have passed, the indigenous peoples were able to maintain their heritage that distinct them from the growing modernity.

But with today's modern technology and the gaining popularity of consumerism, nature is in danger of its oblivion. While the rest of the world live in material convenience, the indigenous people's home is in threat of dying. Imperialism, as it caters to the growing demand of consumers and the multi-national corporation's greed, are factors of the abuse and destruction of nature to extract its resources. Mining, logging, and even industrialization contribute to the devastation of the environment with which the IP call home.

With the destruction and privatization of nature, a vital part of an IP's life is most affected. Food and food resources are affected as well. In the countryside of Thailand, due to large mining operation, their rice fields are dying and their bodies of their water are contaminated with high amounts of cyanide. Immediately, their rice crop is trimmed down and their aquatic resources affected as well. As a catch basin of several waters in Asia, Bangladesh should be and was fertile land. But at present, the constructions of megadams in countries like China, the flow of water towards Bangladesh and its irrigation in the rice fields are affected. Large coal mining has poisoned the soil making bit impossible to till. In Philippines, the construction of industries and mining is accompanied with militarization in the countryside. Projects in the Philippines are initiated with the stationing of armed military forces to antagonize and pacify any resistance from residents. In the recent months, we are informed about the militarization in a town in Abra, Philippines which resulted to the bombardment of the people's residents and their rice fields, leaving the locals without the primary source of their food.

Moreover, with the entry of large corporations in these IP villages to mine or to log, the residents are somehow forced to leave their homes. The degradation of their environment or the forced evacuation from the large corporations results to the unjust migration of these people. With no other jobs to rely on and no nature at hand to depend on, the relocation of the IPs also means the removal of their life. They are removed from their homes which provided them the resources to build their houses and the land and water that provides them food. With this, indigenous women and children suffer most. They are most vulnerable. Wives, with their husbands, are in dire situation of having to find alternative sources for food and shelter. Children are stripped away from the environment that should've nourished them like the older people before them.

Today, the indigenous people have a safety net to fall upon. After decades of lobbying, the United Nations finally adopted the new laws suited for the protection of the indigenous people from exploitation. The United nations Declaration on the rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) took off. Here, many a laws were provided to respect, protect and preserve the unique culture and the special needs of the indigenous people. As of Article 26 of the UNDRIP states, the indigenous people are given the right to land, territory and its resources. And as follows, the right to the development of this land however the IP group pleases.

From the recent Asia Action Plan for the Promotion and Implementation of UNDRIP, programs were laid for the continuity of the assurance of the implementation of the UNDRIP. Indigenous women, can and should play a big role in this programs. IP women can take part in making sure that new information is passed within their community as well as reach out to other IP groups. IP women can empower themselves through more knowledge and sharing it with their peers. IP women can also take part in the consultations within their communities as how to implement projects efficiently. As women, they can also have the power to bind and strengthen the indigenous community. Their courage is also resilient to be used to lobby for the passing of laws for the protection of plants and other resources located in their territories. A woman's understanding of the struggle to provide for their families' survival gives a better voice in this arena. IP women can also take part on the studies on their lands and territories and how large economic development on IP lands. The indigenous people in these lands are the only ones sensitive enough to know what shall remain enough to conserve their territories. IP women are also essential in ensuring that the State provides them the necessary subsidy to develop their communities.

The UNDRIP says that States have the responsibility in providing the IP communities financial and technical assistance to develop their land. As women in the community, they are also endowed with the responsibility to remain watchdogs of the exploitation and neglect of the implementation of the UNDRIP. Over the course of history of the indigenous people, the women in the IP community are known to be at the forefront of protest and mobilizations against large destructive corporations. IP women in the Cordillera remained vigilant against the abuses of the outside community against them. Large dams and mining corporations were once faced by Cordillera women. In other parts of the world, the case is the same as IP women braved large equipments to battle large company aggression. Their bodies might be weaker than those of men, but sure enough, their voice and courage surpass the limitations they are given.

Unfortunately, these laws are still susceptible to abuse or neglect. To ensure the continuous implementation of these laws, each one in the IP community has to take on the task of the continuity of the implementation of these laws. And indigenous women, has an equal share of this responsibility. Armed with provisions from the DRIP, IP women now can assert themselves legally as rightful owners of their ancestral domain along with their families. It is easier to assert their rights on the land and its resources. Mothers are no longer burdened with the worry of losing the land to cultivate food for their children. And children can continue inheriting the richness of the nature and their culture. Armed with the provisions of the UNDRIP and the drive for self-determination, IP women with the rest of the IP community is equipped for the preservation of their culture. #

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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