The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Rights-based Sustainable Development

Asia is home to about 260 million Indigenous Peoples (IPs), with huge number found in Southeast Asia along with its rich Indigenous Knowledge System and Practices (IKSP) valuable for developing policy and practice of a rights-based sustainable development. Yet, IKSP, along with its intrinsic value is threatened of being lost due to some current unsustainable development policy and practice, especially on extractive industries around the region and aggravated by global impacts of climate change such as extreme weather events and other disasters.  Indigenous communities, women and youth are likewise marginalized because of erosion of indigenous practices and in some cases also due to traditional cultural relationships. This remains a sensitive issue though for indigenous communities.

Human rights regime internationally and nationally recognize the existence of Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and their and rights. As examples, it applied in The Philippines and Indonesia laws on human rights laws.  Indonesian Human Rights Law No. 39 of 1999 recognize the right to develop and benefit from scientific knowledge and technology, arts and culture. The Law of 1999 recognize the indigenous peoples (masyarakat hukum adat) as one of the subjects of the Law.  The SDGs 2030 are a set of 17 Global Goals measured by progress against 169 targets covering social issues like poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, and social justice. The goals are part of a global agenda to eradicate poverty, among other indicators of well-being for people and the planet, by the year 2030. Although significant progress has been made towards realizing the development goals, that progress has been tempered by criticism that progress has not made evenly across race, ethnicity, social status, or gender line. (Survival International, December 2017)

There are IKSP for climate change adaptation and disaster resilience like that of weather forecasting to prepare for disasters and sustainable agroforestry practices in Northern Philippines; community gold mining (penambangan emas komunitas) using mechanical practices instead of using mercury and cyanide in The Philippines, Indonesia and many others in Southeast Asia potentially useful for policy and practical innovation. Some indigenous peoples have practiced community-based mining even before the proliferation of industrial scale mining.  What and how do these practices contribute to their sustainable development? What factors can be learned from such practices.  While there is debate as to the ethics and efficiency of some of these practices, there is wisdom in identifying, recording and codifying IKSP before they are gone. We would do a disservice to indigenous peoples and the community at large if we miss the opportunity to integrate IKSP in policy and practice. For example, in the Philippines, while the current Alternative Minerals Mining Bill, proposed to replace Mining Act of 1995, is built around indigenous peoples concerns, among others, but much remained to be done in terms of integrating IKSP. Similarly, the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction Law is lacking in IKSP and indigenous peoples elements. Moreover, in Indonesia the Coal and Mining Law No. 4 of 2009 does recognize community mining, however it does not address the indigenous peoples’ rights comprehensively. There is not any single designation of community mining zones until 2019, ten years after the Law was enacted.

While the documentation of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) and others around these topics is noteworthy, overall at the Southeast Asian region, most IKSP remained to be fragmented, undocumented and not mainstreamed in policy and practice of the greater population. Meanwhile, many indigenous communities are at the brink of losing entirely not only their ancestral domain but also their culture including IKSP.

Via the Regional Forum’s panel discussion, marketplace/pasar/palengke and workshops to be participated by indigenous peoples, government, academe, extractive industry, NGO and youth sectors of Indonesia, Philippines and Mekong countries will address Indigenous Knowledge System and Practices (IKSP) as an important component of action – of policy and practice. 

The Forum will tackle both challenges and opportunities around IKSP and its potential usefulness in policy and practice in responding to poverty reduction,  climate change and disasters including due to mining, using the lens of a rights-based, of gender equity and socially inclusive sustainable development. It will build on past and existing efforts on documenting and promoting IKSP like those of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), Tebtebba Foundation, Samdhana Institute and many other organizations and agencies.

Both Indonesia and the Philippines can address each country’s relevant policies (e.g. Philippines’ Alternative Minerals Mining Bill/National Disaster Risk Reduction Law; Indonesia’s proposal to legally recognize community gold mining; its Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Bill and related laws on IKSP like Law No. 11/13 and both countries’ relevant climate change adaptation policies including the Philippines’ National Climate Change Action Plan) to harmonize with identified IKSPs potentially of use.  On the other hand, the Mekong group can focus its policy outcome on how to further organize and strengthen the indigenous peoples groups in each country towards a policy that recognizes and secures its rights and IKSP especially those that ensure climate change adaptation and disaster resiliency, similarly contributing to global sustainability agenda mentioned above. The relevance of Sustainable Development Goals’ concept and policies will be discussed critically whether it can be use or not as an overarching/common policy in the region and internationally.