“Traditional knowledge has a lot to offer the world.”

UN Development Programme
Apr 29 · 6 min read

In 2016 the GEF Small Grants Programme, implemented by UNDP and funded by the Global Environment Facility, launched the global component of the Indigenous Peoples’ Fellowship Initiative. Four women who are working in biodiversity conservation were selected. The programme also has eight national-level fellows. Global and national fellows came together at this year’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at UNHQ to discuss the issues that indigenous people are fighting for.

Thingreiphi Lungharwo

“I feel like traditional knowledge has a lot to offer to the world because we have seen how other knowledge forms have caused the global crisis today. Traditional knowledge has a lot of solutions.”

Thingreiphi Lungharwo is a member of the Naga Women’s Union in northeast India. She works closely with the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity. She advocates strongly for biodiversity to address poverty, sustainable development and well-being.

She says the international fellowship has given her the opportunity to raise her profile, and gain recognition and visibility for indigenous peoples’ ideas internationally and locally.

“Mostly because we’re indigenous women, not just women but indigenous women it’s very difficult for us to make our voices heard. That’s not just at the national level even within our community indigenous women are not included in the decision making. There is no space for us to engage at the decision-making level and which also from the household level. All decisions come from the men who control it. But despite having such challenges it does not diminish our spirit. God has made me come on this earth the way I am and so it’s also my responsibility to work for the people and for the environment. As a global indigenous fellow, I try to be an effective link between on the ground reality and take it to the global events where it can be highlighted.”

Ben Ruli

“I think this Small Grants Programme provides an avenue where people can come together as a group to talk about things that can help them and talk about issues that are affecting them.”

Ben Ruli is from the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea. Although his background is in education his primary professional interest is in environmental anthropology. He wants to help indigenous communities to work on projects that improve their livelihoods, preserve their culture and address climate change.

“I’m really glad that I had this opportunity to come here because as far as I know, nobody has represented Papua New Guinea at this sort of stage to talk about issues that are really affecting indigenous communities. From this experience I learned a lot of what other countries are facing in different contexts but on the same sort of issues like language, our culture we are all facing the same issues, but in different contexts. So it’s really helping me to see the wider picture of how things can be addressed, how things can be solved. For me to attend this workshop it shows me that there is hope somewhere. Instead of dealing with problems and issues domestically if nothing can be done at the domestic level there’s always some hope that we can bring those someone can assist us in those issues.”

Dr Bo Liu

“I want to share all the knowledge I learned here.”

Dr Bo Liu lectures in biology at the Minzu University of China. Born in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, he specializes in biodiversity conservation and ethnobotany.

A national fellow, he has recorded the traditional knowledge of Tibetans, Hani, Dai, and the Zhuang people of China. He trains indigenous people on how to recognize and protect endangered and traditional medicinal plants.

“It’s a great opportunity to come here. What I learned most was from the declaration. Before that I was only working on a very small village level, and I only knew my people and I talked with them and do a lot of projects, but I learned a lot of things from the declaration and from people all over the world working for human rights, for women’s rights, education of children, everything.”

When he gets home, Bo plans to translate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into his local languages so that indigenous people can better preserve and transmit their traditional knowledge.

“What I learned was I should not only work for small things, like the ecosystem or traditional knowledge but also I should work for learning from others for human rights and women’s rights and education.”

Edith Bastidas

“The knowledge and the way of life of the indigenous peoples, and especially what the indigenous women have done as guardians, as transmitters of knowledge, as educators, is what is enabling an alternative vision of the world, of preserving the world.”

Edith Bastidas is a leader of the Pastos indigenous community in the south of Colombia. She is a lawyer in constitutional and parliamentarian law and is the focal point in Colombia for the International Women’s Network on Biodiversity. An international fellow, her aim is to aim to give voice to the indigenous women in the protection of traditional knowledge and biodiversity.

“Indigenous women have been marginalized from different processes and decisions. We believe that it is also necessary to strengthen and empower them with training, with participation.”

As part of her work, she is following up on the policies at the national and international level and is supporting and training the communities at the local level.

“The indigenous peoples of Colombia are very diverse. There are different regions, climate, territories and foods. And likewise, the people are diverse, their ways of seeing the world, their education, their language. The way they understand and apply health. They are different. So, from Colombia we must highlight this great diversity. But we must also say that right now they are going through a tough period. Because there is a lot of pressure around the territory. There are obstructions to human rights, assassinations, disappearances and threats of leaders and, unfortunately, women also go through this kind of difficulties. And that is why we come to these spaces that are not only about knowledge but also about human rights.”

Ben Ruli, Thingreiphi Lungharwo and Dr Bo Liu work locally and internationally defending the rights of indigenous people.

The GEF SGP indigenous peoples’ fellowship initiative aims to strengthen the capacity of emerging indigenous peoples’ leaders by supporting their advocacy work on environmental and sustainable development issues. Four indigenous women from around the world were selected in late 2016 for the global component with a focus on biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation, while national fellows from seven different countries began their work in late 2018 to support SGP’s outreach efforts with indigenous communities and network building at the national level.

Daniela Peris, Spanish Social Media and Web Editor Intern at UNDP New York contributed to this story.

Photos by Rico Cruz, Photography Intern at UNDP New York.

UN Development Programme

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