By Diamay Klem D. Balacuit | January 20, 2021
Climate change has devastated the environment tremendously. Flash floods, droughts, extreme weather fluctuations—these are just a few of the effects. While the denizens of the developed world may not feel those directly, with some denying the said effects outright, the damage is seen by the very eyes of the indigenous people, the ones left unheard.
The indigenous people, also known as IPs, are ethnic groups of people who live in close proximity to nature. As such, their ways of life connect with nature in more than just the physical and cultural sense. Nature is a direct member of their community, in a sense. From cultural practices, spiritual traditions, and even methods of sustaining and feeding their communities, their every move has the best for nature in mind.
The IPs’ lives, being connected with nature, led them to become the stewards of the creation—an unspoken role they play.
The majority of their ancestral domains are found in the key biodiversity areas in the country, which are rich in natural resources. Even as they live their normal lives, practicing their respective cultures and traditions, they also are natural conservationists. From sacred swathes of land to ritual areas, IP communities have long started conservation even before the modern environmental crisis, equipped only with their indigenous governance and knowledge systems. And this effort of theirs, although not exactly scientific in the strictest of sense, is pointed in the correct direction.
Comparing existing government data, the Philippine Association for Intercultural Development, Inc. estimates that around 85% of the country’s key biodiversity hotspots are situated within ancestral domains of the IPs. While the IP communities are situated well inside these zones, their ways of life do not disrupt the environment much. In planting crops, they use the systems of manual labor. Modern machines and chemicals for farming are not in their minds. In catching fishes, they use spears and nets. They till and catch what they need only.
The indigenous people’s mindset of development is different from the minds of people living in urban areas. As they also consider the places they live in as sacred, their focus is to protect and conserve such space while also living their lives. The urban mindset for development equates progress with harnessing natural resources, industrializing them for survival. When the urban mindset is applied to IP lands, they cause conflicts—bringing harm to all.
The richness of these ancestral domains has attracted different entities who want to exploit its hidden natural treasures. These entities, be they local or international, extract these natural resources for development, creating pieces of machinery that can bring profit to them and comfort to the industrialized parts of the world. Industrialization, the development that the larger society wants, is different from the mindset of indigenous people. But the IP communities do not want this. Hence, the indigenous people of the country are at conflict with society at large.
This difference of belief and ways of life, radical to some, has brought harm to the indigenous people. In a report by United Nations Development Programme, IPs constantly face discrimination, political and economical marginalization, violation on human rights, and loss of land and resources. Armed conflicts in their areas also threaten the IPs, forcing them to evacuate to safer places.
The hardships caused them to lose their most prized possession—their ancestral domains, their homes. Losing their homes means losing also their culture, traditions, and ways of living. These have been evident to the tribespeople flocking to the lowlands, begging for alms in the streets, selling crafts, and doing other odd things that are different from their lives in their ancestral lands.
The onslaught of Nature
The wanton exploitation of their ancestral lands for natural resources has caused a lot of damage. Homes and lands which are lived in by the IP communities have slowly been engulfed by different calamities, affecting them directly. But it does not stop there. It also affected the people who live in areas away from their ancestral lands. Calamities such as flash floods, extreme weather conditions, and global warming are just some of the effects of climate change that is widely experienced by everyone. As recent as 2017, unsustainable logging practices led to the recurring and sometimes unexpected flooding in the Northern Mindanao region, affecting areas within and around Cagayan de Oro city and even beyond.
The onslaught of nature, although it affected everyone, did the most damage to these people. Typhoons and other calamities did not affect them directly before, but they are more vulnerable to these natural calamities than ever before. Their natural protectors are slowly disappearing. If one thinks about it, the IPs contribute least to the global phenomenon known as climate change, yet they are the most vulnerable to the effects of it.
Being stewards of nature has led them to create ways of adapting to natural changes caused by the environment. One specific example of this is the lives of the Manobo tribe in Agusan del Sur that lives in the Agusan Marshland, a wetland ecosystem. To avoid the harmful effects of flooding during the wet season, they build stilts in their houses and other structures, making them taller than the level of the flood water. They also use solar panels to avoid electrocution during flooding and use boats as their means of transportation during this season. The way that this tribe lives is a classic example of how the indigenous people connect to nature. Instead of going against it, they live with it.
The resiliency and adaptability of these people to the changes in the environment brought them a great advantage in surviving amidst the impacts of climate change. But these things are left unheard by the larger society. They are still being belittled, marginalized, and violated. While they may not be noticed directly because their population is dwindling, they still experience climate change the same way the rest of the world does. In some cases, they even have it worse.
The connection they have to nature is undeniable. But as nature is ruined, so are their ways of living. The modern world can learn from them, and by doing so the world may also listen to their hardships, their pleas—they are waiting to be heard.
Ichimura, A. (2020, November 17). This Indigenous Tribe in Mindanao Could Teach Us All a Lesson About Living With-Not Against-Nature. Esquire Magazine PH Features. From: https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/manobo-tribe-floods-agusan-marsh-a00304-20201117
UNDP (2013, July 10). Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines. United Nations Development Programme Fast Facts. From: https://www.ph.undp.org/content/philippines/en/home/library/democratic_governance/FastFacts-IPs.html