As the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, Filipinos find ways to pursue learning — some doing so in hopes that this would contribute to the country’s survival and recovery. However, there are experts that have seen the pandemic coming for a long time: indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) and indigenous peoples (IPs). Through their traditional knowledge, they have expected that environmental degradation would lead to disease and death, and thus implemented measures to safeguard their communities.
Traditional knowledge consists of indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSPs), which are passed from generation to generation among ICCs and IPs, usually by word of mouth and cultural rituals. In the Philippines, IKSPs have provided foundations for sustainable agriculture, food security, health care, education, conservation, and many such development undertakings. Moreover, they have served as a basis for grassroots decision-making, banking on indigenous peoples’ dedication to socially and ecologically sound solutions.
The Lumad, which form the largest group of ICCs and IPs in the country, also have the biggest pools of knowledge and practices in social and ecological management. For instance, the Manobo community cultivates the diversity of medicinal plants in their territory to deal with public health crises. The Subanen community employs animal warnings and signs in nature to understand the effects of anthropogenic activities like illegal logging and forest denudation and to administer their disaster risk reduction operations. The Higaonon community preserves an ancient system of conflict resolution to enact peace-building in land disputes and other issues concerning the individual, the community, and the domain. All these are maintained and transmitted through their teaching customs, either through the family unit or their educational institutions.
Typically, IKSPs are delivered through affective learning, following a holistic approach to shape the life of the individual as well as the life of the community. In indigenous educational institutions like the Lumad Bakwit Schools, which are formed by displaced Lumad students and teachers, affective learning is necessary to reinforce their identity as a people and their relationship to their ancestral lands. Lessons at the Lumad Bakwit Schools are localized to ground the students in the narratives of their respective communities. As they study, they learn to respect each other’s ideas and opinions, and take responsibility for each other’s development.
Aside from teaching basic reading and writing, mathematics, sciences, and social studies, the Lumad Bakwit Schools instruct their students about sustainable agriculture. The Lumad students, who press on with their studies under precarious conditions, comprehend that their education is a ticket to liberating their communities and lands from the encroachment and violence that besiege them. Away from their homes, they study concepts of health and food security, as well as concepts of indigenous rights and self-determination, with purpose and urgency.
Therefore, it makes sense to turn to IKSPs in building the new normal. Ensuring their persistence and enriching their capacity to influence community care all over the country can allow Filipinos to become self-sufficient through the knowledge systems and practices that we have had — and neglected — all along. To do these, two things must take place:
1. Indigenous educational institutions must be protected. Indigenous schools continue to be shut down and impacted by the conflict between state forces and militant groups. In addition, indigenous lands continue to be exploited by land grabbers. In the process, indigenous students and teachers partake in the diaspora with no definite direction, no sure destination, and no certain future. If ICCs and IPs are to play a part in our fight against COVID-19, they and their spaces must be kept safe from harm, and those displaced must be enabled to return to their roots.
2. The Philippine education system must heed IKSPs. Indigenous schools are still considered illegitimate by the education system, and mainstream curricula do not pay much regard to IKSPs. Students under these curricula are barely exposed to the stories of ICCs and IPs; if the students are exposed, they do not necessarily perceive and treat ICCs and IPs as co-equals or partners in development. If ICCs and IPs are to play a part in our fight against COVID-19, they must be interacted with for who they are: agents of social change, just like all other Filipinos.
However, it is important to keep in mind that these must be accomplished not merely to utilize IKSPs for national gain, but also to nurture regard for their culture and the definition of their own development. They do not resist only to be pitied or used; they resist to assert their identity and rights as empowered peoples. Contrary to popular portrayal, ICCs and IPs like the Lumad are not helpless and hopeless; they are, in fact, more than capable of delivering help, as well as maintaining hope in their communities and instilling hope in others.
During the pandemic, ICCs and IPs are also finding ways to transmit IKSPs. Some groups impart these online, through webinars, panel discussions, and other such events. The Lumad Bakwit Schools work with civil society organizations to fulfill their basic needs, share their plight, and communicate their knowledge and practices to others. They participate in advocacy campaigns to raise awareness, incite behavioral change, and work for the passage of policies and programs for their welfare. Much more needs to be done in order to truly incorporate IKSPs into the country’s bid for survival and recovery, but opportunities are present for the Filipinos who want to learn. It starts there — bigyang pansin ang sariling atin. – Rappler.com
Angela Maree Encomienda is a third year student at the Ateneo de Manila University and the founder of The Initiative PH, one of the organizations currently working with the Lumad Bakwit School of Metro Manila.