Indigenous Peoples, Right to Land, Right to a Voice

09 Aug 2012

Indigenous peoples are universally known as the custodians of rich oral traditions that are often based on a harmony with nature and a respect for the land that repeatedly throughout history has been taken from them. A recent human rights report by the Associazione per i Popoli Minacciati (Association for Threatened Peoples), for example, documents 12 case studies of governments in Africa, Asia, Central and South America that are granting indigenous peoples’ land to agricultural multinationals or investment funds.

The situation is particularly dramatic in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia. On Mindanao Island in southern Philippines, theft of the land affects 4.5 million people. In Indonesia, more and more of the 40 million indigenous people are becoming victims of the expansion of palm oil production, and it is estimated that by 2020 another 7 million hectare of land will be transformed into plantations.

How to give a voice to these oral traditions, but above all, to the rights of indigenous people is precisely the focus of the this 18th edition of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples: by building their voice through media and new forms of web-based communication, but also to put these communities in contact with each other, strengthening the link between different groups.

Radio, a means of communication certainly not among the most advanced, but trustable, simple and inexpensive, has been put into action in a number of different indigenous communities. In addition, basic mobile phone technology (sms, smart phones) has enormous potential to connect various indigenous communities and promote awareness of their problems, culture and basic human rights. This day is an opportunity to talk about the potential of communication technology to both allow indigenous communities to make contact with each other, as well as making themselves and their cultures and and rights known to the wider public.

Slow Food and Indigenous Peoples
Slow Food has been working with indigenous communities for more than a decade, encouraging them to uphold their food traditions through the Terra Madre worldwide network of food communities and its biennial meeting, a growing number of regional meetings, and the Presidia – projects that directly involve producers and support quality foods at risk of extinction.

Indigenous Terra Madre 2011 in Jokkmokk, northern Sweden, was the first ever Slow Food event dedicated to indigenous people, aiming to draw attention to their plight and discuss how to bring their unique knowledge into modern times. More than one year on, Slow Food remains ever more convinced that the irreplaceable inherited wisdom of indigenous peoples is not only a heritage worth protecting, but that we should look to these communities for the solutions to fix a broken global food system.

This year brought a milestone for Slow Food’s work on indigenous issues. On May 14 Slow Food President Carlo Petrini spoke at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, becoming the first outside speaker to be invited in its ten-year history.

In October, Slow Food’ commitment to indigenous issues will again be prominent at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, with the event recounting stories of foods from all continents and the communities that sustain them. The program will include a conference (“Indigenous Peoples and Local Food Sovereignty: A struggle for self-determined development” on Friday October 26, at 12 noon) and meetings dedicated to indigenous issues as well as give representatives from indigenous communities the opportunity to showcase their traditional products.

In 2014, in collaboration with the Indigenous Partnership and the Meghalaya state government, the second international Indigenous Terra Madre event will take place in northeast India, home to over 300 tribes.

Photo: Mauro Vallinotto

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