“Land is the foundation of everything that’s connected to food, traditional knowledge, and custom beliefs. It’s the power base of society.” Aminio David Seresere
I am an Indigenous person from the Republic of Vanuatu, a small country located in the Pacific Ocean. I work as a coordinator for the Vanuatu Indigenous Land Defense Desk at the Vanuatu Cultural Center. This program’s mission is to protect, preserve, and promote Vanuatu’s traditional identities and I take great pride in the work that I do with them. I live in Melanesia and I am a part of the Yam tribe. Melanesia’s location in Vanuatu makes it a matrilineal society. Since the 2000s, there’s been a huge land boom and, as a result, many Indigenous people have become displaced and feel that they were robbed because of the development of formal systems of land registration. This system shifted land rights and ownership from the indigenous people to land grabbers and the fact that the government is responsible for this, because they are also landgrabbers, makes this situation twice as hard.
In the tribal system, land is viewed as a communal thing, but with the implementation of the formal system of land registration and the western way of thinking, I and other Indigenous people feel that our traditional Indigenous land tenure systems are destroyed. For me, part of the problem is the introduction of a cash-based system and a western way of living, which makes it a challenge to follow traditions that Indigenous people have had in place throughout our history of living on our land. The cash economy, along with the church ideology and the education system that’s being introduced, further add to the confusion and fear of our people because we don’t know which system to follow.
With the assistance of The Christensen Fund, I am working on changing these issues and solving these problems by addressing them on a community level. Since 2009, The Christensen Fund has been helping the people of Melanesia in returning to a sovereign land and maintaining their traditional economy, and, supporting and strengthening the culture so we can regain and maintain our traditional knowledge and lifestyle. I feel that a powerful way to do this is by raising and teaching children about their Indigenous culture. Teaching them how to live off of the land and embrace their birthright as Indigenous people, including giving them knowledge about the food, traditions, and customs of the land, allows them to be better equipped to play a major role in the future of their community regardless of the inevitable changes that they face from those who want to take away their land.
Written with Nancy Monperousse