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Indigenous peoples make up less than 6% of the global population, yet they speak more than 4,000 of the world’s almost 7,000 languages. There are dire predictions that up to 95 percent of the world’s languages may become extinct. Seriously endangered indigenous languages constitute the majority of these. The persistence of indigenous languages is clear proof of indigenous peoples’ assertion of their distinct identities and self-determination. When indigenous languages are threatened, so are indigenous peoples.

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The International Learning Exchange on "Traditional Seeds, Food and Agro-Ecology" was held in Cambodia on October 20 - 27th, 2018.

“To have this exchange all of our partners from different countries coming together to share, not only to share about our seeds, our food security but also to strengthen our relations, our solidarity as peoples,” says Joan Carling in the video.

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 In Sanggau District, West Kalimantan Province in Indonesia, more than 6,000 indigenous Iban Sebaruk people were involved in Institut Dayakologi’s project of strengthening their customary institution for an effective and credible customary law system.

They began with an assessment of the Iban Sebaruk Customary Administration as the highest legal authority and the indigenous territories under its jurisdiction. The series of workshops spread over a period of one year from June 2017 to May 2018 was attended by customary administrators, indigenous leaders, women, and youth from fourteen villages (or kampongs). The project’s objectives were explained and disseminated to all participants for them to appreciate the need to strengthen customary institutions and customary Laws.

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The recent trip to Aotearoa-New Zealand by the ​hlau​ was to further strengthen the bonds of Native Hawaiian and New Zealand Māori youth who are seen as international models of language and culture revitalization. The trip to Aotearoa-New Zealand built on earlier support of the​ hlau​ as a PAWANKA Fund partner in 2016.

The focus of that partnership was the project “​E Ola A Laupaʻi​: Long Live the Knowledge of the Ancestors Through the Descendants”. The project sought to inspire contemporary hula schools to make more use of the Hawaiian language. It culminated with a​ hōʻike​, or performance, for the Native Hawaiian community during the world famous Merrie Monarch hula competitions. As part of the Pawanka funded project, students and teachers of the ​hlau received specialized training in a number of dances and chants from a master of the art.

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Bees, like farmers all over the planet, are struggling with the onslaught of drought and extreme climatic changes. Additionally, deforestation, use of agricultural pesticides, pests, and diseases have contributed to an alarming decrease in the bee population that discourages beekeepers from pursuing this occupation.

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The Deatnu River flows between Finland and Norway and into the Atlantic Ocean. Alongside it lies Veahčak, a small Saami village. Fishing for North Atlantic salmon in the Deatnu River is the core of Saami culture in the Deatnu Valley and it has provided a livelihood for local Saamis since time immemorial. Fish define their community life, economic routine, relationship with neighbouring communities, and are the basis of their handicrafts, arts, and folklore.  The Saami people own about 95% of local fishing rights and salmon-fishing is primary to their subsistence and survival. Salmon fishing in Deatnu has been regulated through bilateral agreements since 1873.

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The pride among the Nuba people is palpable as they reclaim their identity through their language. “Community members are writing their names in our language and calling each other with our traditional names. It’s amazing that we can now confidently write our own names in our language and do so proudly,” Kabashi Rahma enthused.

Mary Kuku, DNWDO Director summed it up:  “During the war, our language played a big role in keeping us safe. Our language is our secret and our peace. This program is important especially because we are in a country that has discriminated against us. It is our responsibility to ensure that we continue to jealously protect our language and culture for ourselves and the future generations.”

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Mt. Kinabalu is held sacred by the indigenous peoples of Sabah in Malaysia. They believe the mountain is where the souls of their departed rest before ascending to higher realms.

The mountain was also the epicentre of an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 in June 2015. Aside from the physical damage, the earthquake caused economic displacement and mental and spiritual devastation among the indigenous peoples settled around the mountain, as well as the local population in Sabah. The physical impact of the earthquake lingered, with rocks, soil, and trees remaining loose and causing mud floods during the rainy season. There were dramatic effects on forests and rivers, a critical source of drinking water and irrigation that crop production and livelihoods very much depend upon.

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“Changes in society are fast-paced. Cash economy affects our ways of life. Our traditional values and practices are fast disintegrating. It is our duty as elders to promote these, educate the people on the importance of safeguarding our ancestral lands and resources, and assert our indigenous ways of governance and resolving conflicts to prevent tribal wars.” This precise analysis of CEA pioneer Abraham Batawang frames the continuing role of indigenous institutions in their survival.

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In the Northern Kenya region live the Boran Waso peoples. Traditional healing is one facet of their culture and in their pastoralist communities, medicinal plants abound. To revitalize this tradition and sustain their environment from which they derive their healing resources, the Faiya Women’s Group embarked on a project that mapped the whereabouts of their healers and their expertise.

Traditional healers were searched and identified by location, age, and gender, making it easier to access them. They were registered as traditional healers and recognized by both the community and government institutions which made their healing systems widely acceptable and validated. Healers involved in the treatment of specific ailments were identified with the corresponding healing procedures they perform. Meetings with government medical institutions and policy makers enabled traditional healers to understand laws that govern the use of medicinal plants.

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The Chin Hills Regulation (1896) was the basis of the enactment of the Chin Act in 1948 which was also the year of Burma’s Independence. The enactment was to recognize and promote the Chin traditional customs and culture. After 65 years, the State Assembly of Chin State (Union of Burma) initiated a review of the Chin Customary Law in 2013. The review and proposed amendments aimed to promote the indigenous Chin peoples’ customary laws and practices, and for the Act to conform to international norms and standards such as the UNDRIP. The Chin peoples’ recommendations were crucial to the review of the Chin Act. The incumbent Chin State assembly, civil society organizations (CSOs), and other stakeholders such as the Chin tribes, youth and women, and members of the review committee were united in ensuring the respect, protection and enhancement of Chin traditions and customary systems.

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The municipalities of San Juan Cotzal,  San Gaspar Chajul, Santa María Nebaj, are known as the Ixil Triangle in Quiché, Guatemala, home to the Ixil Maya indigenous women who are known for their traditional weaving skills. To learn about their culture is to learn the intricacies, meanings, and colors of their woven materials and the many external forces interplaying in their lives.

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The Miskitu people’s ancestral territory in the North Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua is a site of magic and wisdom. Here, Avelino Cox, a native of the Wangky or Coco River, was born.

As a boy, he accompanied his grandparents all over the territory where he heard stories and learned about the life and traditions of his people. He lived his youth in the 80s in the midst of war, a time of great suffering for his people. Many  sought refuge in Bilwi. For him, migrating meant leaving ancestral customs, making him wonder: “What should I do to maintain the cultural practices of my people?” This tormented him because all he knew was to share what he learned from the elders and leaders of the communities.

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To sow the seeds of cultural awareness among the children is to prepare them to stand firmly on their tradition and indigenous identity. This is what the Partnership for Culture-creating Schools of Altai in Russia embarked on with their Education Through Action project which focused on the sacred Karakol Valley.

Through a film showing (“Standing on Sacred Ground”) in five Altaian villages; a contest on Traditional Knowledge projects (drawings, photography, carvings, etc.); and a summer camp program, interest was stirred and awareness was shaped about  traditional cultural values.

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“This is the project that I have been waiting for so long!” Mrs. Peenee Moonkul, a Karen leader and Chairperson of a weaving group in Maewang district, Chiang Mai, Thailand expressed the sentiments of the participants in the project of the Indigenous Women’s Network in Thailand (IWNT) which aimed to highlight indigenous knowledge designed and deeply imbedded in traditional handicrafts such as weaving and embroidery of indigenous women in the country.

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The Mandaya tribe in Barangay Calapagan, Lupon, Davao Oriental in Southern Philippines noted that some of their indigenous ways and practices that are beneficial to their community have been lost with time, such as the ligad and pasoot, which ensure food security. Ligad means “on the side” where the farmer plants root crops or vegetables on the side of his rice or corn field which will augment food supply while waiting for harvest. Pasoot means undercropping, where the farmer plants wakag or ube (yam) underneath the corn. This was a realization while the project was ogoing.

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There is no better way to revitalize and promote cultural heritage and cultural rights; transmit indigenous knowledge and build peace than through innovative artistic expressions and explorations. The Guyasa CBO embarked on this endeavour and reaped valuable results in Isiolo, in northern Kenya, particularly in Kinna community which is mainly occupied by the pastoralist Waso Borana. The customary institution and traditional governance system called Dee’da is composed of elders, and youth and women representatives who mandated to oversee resource management and governance in the community.

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The Buryats who number approximately half a million, are  one  of  the  largest  indigenous peoples  of  Inner  Asia.  They have a rich and ancient culture with their history, spirituality, worldview, lifeways and a shared landscape. However, during the past century, the Buryats as a nation have experienced disturbances and disruptions that continue to threaten them to this day.

The deeply divisive  political  power  struggle has forcibly driven the previously strong  Buryat  union  of  nomadic  Mongolian-speaking  tribes  into the  three  neighboring  nation-states:  Russia,  China  and  Mongolia. Today,  many  communities  of  the divided  Buryat  nation  are  facing  serious  issues  of  self-determination and loss  of  traditions. Massive and effective assimilation has resulted in the loss of sense of identity and very importantly, the Buryats’  native  language.

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