Passing on the Torch

Gather indigenous youth with the fervour to learn and re-acquaint themselves to their indigenous roots, then let them listen to the words of wisdom of their elders. Give them the opportunity to travel and encounter fellow indigenous youth of other cultures and countries, and let them immerse in the issues and concerns of indigenous communities.

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The entire project launched a series of dynamic exchanges and discourse of hundreds of indigenous youth and elders, first in the Philippines, then at the regional workshops participated by  Asia and the Pacific indigenous elders and youth in Thailand. Samin  Ngach  Nach  of the Cambodia  Indigenous  Peoples  Alliance gratefully stated that “The  workshop  is  very  useful  for  all of us  because  we  learn a  lot  from  the  elders  and the  activities by sharing  what  is important about  our  traditional  knowledge.”

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It was not only the youth being informed and empowered because the elders who drew their stamina from the contagious  enthusiasm of the youth acknowledged a leap in their awareness  of the  challenges  that  the  indigenous  youth confronted such as their minimal role in decision-making in their communities and the threats to their indigenous  territories that they are to inherit.

Elder Joni  Odocho  of  the  Hiko  Village in Thailand advised the participants that  “Young  people  must  look  into  the root  causes  of  the  problems, then  find  ways  to  solve  the  conflicts. These can  be  found  in  the belief  system,  power,  measure  of  resources  over  human  rights,  over  benefits or interests  especially  about  money.  I’m old now, I probably cannot solve these conflicts. You can find the solutions.” Anish  Shrestha of Nepal’s Newar  Students  Association concurred because he believes that “It’s  very  important  in  modern  society  like  now, when the indigenous  youth  have  been  forgetting  their  roles.  This  is  a  great  opportunity  to  learn  and  share  from  the  elders.”

The Indigenous Peoples’  convergence was a deeply meaningful interaction where participants not only came to grasp the harsh realities of indigenous peoples in the Philippines but also  learned  the  various  indigenous  dances,  music,  songs  and  chants  of  different indigenous groups  in  the  country. 

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The political and cultural exchange forged the solidarity  of  young indigenous peoples   in  the host country  and  the region. Vedora  Jessica  Peter of Belia  Jaringan  Orang  Asal  Semalaysia,  Malaysia was amazed that “… although  we  all are from different countries,  I  know  that  we  all  have  the  same  fight  as  indigenous  peoples. When we perform our dance and we  speak a different  language,    we  still  can  communicate  nicely  with  each  other  and  we make  it  happen.”

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Learning is a timeless experience. The late elder Benedict Solang from the Cordillera, Philippines beamed with pride as he summed up the entire process of transmitting  indigenous  knowledge  and  values  formation  to the indigenous  youth  in  Asia when he addressed the participants,  “With  all  of  you,  active  youth,  there  certainly  is  hope  for  our  struggles.  If  the  elders  are  the  moon,  you  are  all  the  stars  in  the  horizon  shining  bright  moving  forward.  Let  us  continue  our  international  solidarity  to  advance  indigenous  peoples’  rights  and  the  rights  of  all  the  exploited  and  oppressed  peoples  of  the  world.”

The indigenous youth participants firmed up their linkages and continuing collaboration on learning methods. Valuable  insights  and  data  were  shared  in  the  regional  workshop  that contributed to the  development  of  a  training  module  on  indigenous  knowledge  for  the  indigenous  youth. This and the production of video-documentaries will be used by the indigenous youth as educational tools in the active and sustained promotion of positive  traditional  knowledge.

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Before the participants made their separate ways, they had an initial planning on how to move forward from the conference. There were unities and commitments of the participants to strengthen their respective organizations on the ground and some even resolved to form National Indigenous Youth formations in their countries with the objective of expanding and consolidating their membership and training new leaders. In this way, they can also help strengthen the regional Young Indigenous Youth Network as a whole.

Inspired by the exchanges of the elders and fellow youth, some expressed their interest to replicate the cultural exchange at the local level. This will be an opportunity for them to learn more about their own culture from the elders and youth from the community and share it in future activities such as the Asia Cultural Exchange.

The indigenous youths are definitely keeping the flame of indigenous culture alive, and the elders are hopeful.

The project entitled “Indigenous  Peoples’  Learning  Center  for  the  Transmission  of  Indigenous  Knowledge  and  Values  Formation  among  Indigenous  Youth  in  Asia” was supported by the Pawanka Fund and implemented by Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network on July 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016.