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Indigenous youth as agents of change for self-determination

On this International Day of Indigenous Peoples, UnionAID is proud to shine a spotlight on three remarkable indigenous young leaders from our Mindanao Young Leaders Programme. Each of these leaders, hailing from different tribes and communities, provide us with a glimpse into the unique challenges and triumphs faced by indigenous youth. Here’s what they have to share:

Edward Intang Abelardo - Tëduray Indigenous Peoples group

“Our narrative distinguishes us from other Indigenous Peoples outside of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). As a leader from a Teduary Indigenous Peoples group, we’re a minority among minorities. We face challenges like political discrimination, marginalisation, land encroachments, and human rights violations despite legal safeguards like the Philippine Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). Many in power neglect the rights of Indigenous Peoples, increasing our difficulties.

Despite these challenges, we’re resilient and united. My advocacy is to boost Indigenous Peoples’ participation in democratic processes. This requires preserving our identity and dignity. Empowering Indigenous youth and understanding self-determination is vital.

As we confront a global issue, our vulnerability as a group to the impacts of climate change becomes apparent. Our geographical setup, combined with our deeply rooted way of life closely tied to the environment, puts us at greater risk. Our traditional farming system, Sulagad, remains disconnected from the farming and fishing technological advancements that capitalism tends to favor due to its narrow definition of development. This disconnect threatens our way of living and the harmony we share with nature.

In our unique situation, the struggle for our rights and dignity persists. However, we remain committed to effecting positive change, challenging the status quo, and fostering awareness of the issues confronting our Indigenous group. As we strive for justice and equality, we hope to inspire a collective transformation that embraces and respects the rights of all Indigenous Peoples in the region. Through persistence, advocacy, and collaboration, we aspire to carve a path toward a more inclusive and equitable society for all.”

Edward Abelardo. Photo by by Racel Mae
Ailyn Barrios (Ling) - Panaghiusa alang sa Kaugalingnan ug Kalingkawasan, Inc. (PASAKK Inc.)

“Culture and tradition are one of the important things that the Indigenous peoples around the world have. It serves as an identity which is unique from others.

Passing traditional knowledge to young generations is a way of preserving and sustaining culture and tradition. Sustaining culture and tradition means sustaining identity. The stronger the sense of cultural identity the more resilient the Indigenous Persons (IP) youth become. And even if they face some sorts of discrimination (which is happening right now) they can  face it with all the confidence. If the foundation is strong then it will be hard to break it. Colonisation has had a huge negative impact on sustaining IP culture and tradition. The use of language in the past and up until now in many countries specifically Philippines, is one of the many challenges faced by the IPs around the world.  

Thus, we have created a project intitled “Pagpadajun tu Kultura: An indigenous youth-led project to sustain Manobo cultural practices”. This project, which I developed as part of the UnionAID Mindanao Young Leaders Programme, aims to increase the awareness and appreciation of cultural practices, tradition, and usage of Manobo language among the Manobo IP youth. Despite the challenges faced by some of the IP youth, we are still working together to come up with a solution in sustaining indigenous culture, tradition, and the use of language. IP youth has a huge and important role in making positive change in their communities. Youth are the ones that will continue to use and practice it. That is why it is important that the right to self- determination is protected, respected, and fulfilled, so that the IP youth can freely express their needs and address them.”

Dyanne Grace Tenorio Cabigas - Malalag Tribal Council (MTC)

“Indigenous youth play a vital role in promoting and preserving cultural practices. They serve as a bridge between generations, helping to pass down traditional knowledge and values.

As an indigenous youth and a youth leader, I have been actively engaging youth in community work that involves them in decision making processes, creating projects and activities that advocate for our rights, and promoting and preserving our identity as indigenous peoples.  We (Malalag Tribal Youth) engage in activities such as:

  1. Activities during the celebration of “Sagawak Festival” in celebration of indigenous peoples in Malalag where the highlights of activities such as Byaneng (Princess) ng Malalag, Tribal Games, Tribal Cooking and other activities that are led and created by the indigenous youth in support to the tribal community.
  2. Showcasing art and expression, we use art, music, dance and storytelling as platforms to showcase our cultural identity by participating in local, provincial, regional and national events.
  3. We are advocacy driven. Which means we are active in social rights, raising awareness on what we experience, and the different challenges as “we” youth face in our community. One example is the “Project Dyengeg”. The project aims to address the discrimination against indigenous peoples in Malalag. We were able to create multiple activities that invites different government and non-government organizations.
  4. Environmental Stewardship – we have a deep connection with the environment, hence we engage in eco-friendly practices and raise awareness about the importance of sustainable resource management. In addition, we created and collaborate with other agencies by conducting coastal clean-up and tree planting.
  5. We leverage technology and social media to share our cultural practices to broader audiences. In fact, during the pandemic we did not stop promoting our culture but we were able to create activities in social media that captured the news media to features the initiatives created by indigenous youth. Despite the challenges during pandemic, we continued our goal.
  6. Cultural exchange and collaboration to other IP community and organizations. We were able to experience community immersion and participate in activities given by national non-government organizations.
  7. At the international level, I participated in the UnionAID Mindanao Young Leaders Programme. Highlighting the “Project Saluk” an indigenous research project adapting the Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP) of the Tagakaulo in Malalag, Davao del Sur, and creating sustainable solutions to an identified community development challenge.

The project is run by the indigenous youth volunteers where they undergo a series of workshops given by the tribal leaders and elders.  The entire indigenous community were able to participate in data gathering to understand why indigenous youth do not go to school. We will use our learning to tackle this issue in the next stage of the project.

These are some of initiatives to engage indigenous youth in Malalag, Davao del Sur. It may not be easy to achieve the goals because of the discriminations and different challenges that we face. Especially that we are volunteers, students, employees and have other responsibilities. However, we still continue to fight for our rights and never stop promoting our culture. Overall, these efforts not only preserve our indigenous cultures but also contribute to a more diverse and culturally enriched society.”

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