Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 has begun! On November 3, delegates and dignitaries from around the world arrived at North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Meghalaya, India to the sound of traditional drums. Many arrived dressed in the traditional costume of their communities, from the Sami of northern Sweden, the host community of the previous edition of Indigenous Terra Madre, in blue dresses patterned with decorative embroidery to the local Khasi community in distinctive plaid silk shawls. Overall, just over 600 delegates have arrived from every corner of the world to participate in Indigenous Terra Madre, including representatives from over 100 different tribes and ethnic groups in 58 different countries. This was just one aspect of diversity on display at the opening ceremony, which also featured typical songs and dances of North East India throughout the afternoon, including the debut of the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015 theme song, “Ko Mai-Ramew,” written in the Khasi language.
Keynote speakers included Phrang Roy, coordinator of the Indigenous Partnership and chairman of NESFAS, who welcomed the 140 different indigenous groups by remarking that this event marks the most represented meeting of indigenous communities in recent times. However, his welcome also came with a warning to the crowd, noting “out of desperation, out of temptations and sometimes out of ignorance many of us may attempt to abandon out indigenous practices even before we can understand their intrinsic values,” and calling for the global indigenous community to instead build a “society of hope” by allowing their traditions to guide them into the future.
Other speakers echoed the importance of strengthening the connection between nature and humankind through maintaining biodiversity and native foods. In a video message recorded specially for the event, Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, challenged delegates to use these days to answer the question, “How can we better empower all communities to create a participatory economic model that safeguards culture, diversity and the environment?” Indeed, the concept of creating strong local food economies and food sovereignty were important themes of the day. In her presentation, Dr. Winona LaDuke, Native American activist, environmentalist and economist, called for an end to the dominance of multinationals in the food system and the reliance on industrial agriculture and fossil fuels, noting that indeed, indigenous foods are “pre-petroleum, pre-Colonialism, and pre-genetic engineering.”
To close out the ceremony, Slow Food International founder Carlo Petrini spoke on the importance of looking to indigenous peoples for their knowledge of sustainable and just food systems. Petrini denounced the current, globalized food system and multinational businesses for the way they devalue biodiversity in search of profits, stating, “Everyone wants to speak about sustainability, but they don’t work to change the system…We’re losing our history, our memory, our food heritage. We’re becoming like globalized, mass produced products.” Instead, Petrini encouraged the crowd to create change in their communities, starting with supporting their local farmers and producers. “Eating locally, we can change the current paradigm and save the planet,” he added. “The future is not in the global economy, but in an economy in harmony with nature.”
As the inauguration of Indigenous Terra Madre came to a close, delegates left NEHU’s Convocation Hall visibly inspired and exited to begin the following days of conferences, demonstrations and workshops. Conversations about a food movement and a world shaped by the sharing of traditional knowledge and cultural exchange had already begun.
Listen to the Indigenous Terra Madre theme song.