Many indigenous peoples working in NGOs and peoples' organizations in Asia used to be unsure about the idea of promoting indigenous concepts and systems, and their capability to undertake this task. That was in early 90s. But it was clear at that time that decades of suppression of indigenous peoples led to increasing support on the right to self-determination. When Asian indigenous representatives gathered for the first time in April 1992 in Bangkok, very few were aware of the discussions at the international level on this issue, particularly of the standard setting work by the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Indigenous Population.
The 1992 Bangkok meeting of indigenous peoples of Asia resulted in the recognition of the need to promote indigenous peoples rights. The UN proclamation of 1993 as the International Year of the World's Indigenous Peoples provided additional support for this need. Thus in 1992, the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) was inaugurated.
AIPP is crucial for indigenous peoples in Asia in fostering closer cooperation and solidarity among themselves, restoring and revitalizing their indigenous systems including social and cultural institutions, gaining control over their ancestral homeland, and determining their own development and future.
It now has 17 member-organizations and 2 candidate member-organizations from 10 countries (Nepal, India/North-East India, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan/Ainu mosir, Taiwan and Bangladesh). These member-organizations are either national networks or indigenous local organizations. AIPP also has contacts with indigenous peoples organizations in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. It also has direct links to indigenous organizations in other regions (Africa, Pacific, Arctic, Eastern Europe, North America, and Latin America).
AIPP sends representatives to various UN meetings such as the session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Working Group on Indigenous Populations (UNWGIP), Ad-Hoc Inter Sessional Working Group on the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (WGDD), Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII), meetings related to the Convention on Biological Diversity such as Conventions of the Parties (COPs), Working Group on Article 8(j) and Related Provisions, Working Group on Access and Benefit-Sharing, Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) and other forums on indigenous peoples. AIPP representatives were also active in the,4th World Conference on Women (1995), World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Other Forms of Intolerance [WCAR] (2001), World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), and the World Parks Congress (2003).
It holds training sessions, exchanges and exposure activities, and annual conferences. It also addresses internal needs of the member-organizations, and organizes three-month internship for indigenous community representatives at the AIPP Secretariat. Its research work, though not fully developed, has produced several outputs. The AIPP Secretariat also regularly disseminates information, including monthly updates of AIPP's activities, through email to all its members and contacts.
Like other regional organizations, AIPP has its own share of challenges in the ongoing process of building regional networking. Among the concerns constantly being reflected upon are the following:
Asia with its myriad of mainstream and indigenous languages poses a great challenge in the field of communication. Although communication costs have been considerably cut with internet access for most indigenous peoples organizations, there are still many who cannot afford the technology or do not have access to good facilities. The main problem remains: language of communication. AIPP could only manage to translate materials for its executive council members (at least two out of seven members need translation). This cuts out the possibility of regular teleconferences, which are cheaper and would have allowed more active involvement. For regional meetings and conferences, interpreters have to be employed, which raises costs or reduces the number of indigenous participants, not to mention less smoother and clearer exchanges between participants. In the last two years, AIPP has compiled a pool of translators to translate documents into local or national languages to allow indigenous peoples more access to information in their own language.
AIPP tries to ensure that there are translators during meetings and the materials are translated. Donors have to be made to understand such needs and ensure that sufficient funds are allocated.
b. Able leadership
Indigenous peoples organizations have found over this decade the need to respond to many issues relating to civil and political rights, economic and social rights, sustainable development, environment and gender. In particular, women leaders have been overloaded with work if they have to respond to regional and international commitments apart from their own local struggles. Although many indigenous leaders are very committed to build AIPP, many also lack the capacity to grasp regional needs, particularly the need to develop broad strategies that involve different cultures and situations. Too many tend to rely only on local experience. Lack of time and finances to visit other countries and communities in the region also pose a problem. One solution was AIPP's effort to have sub-regional representatives in its Executive Council, who will be in charge of smaller geographical areas. However, for some, going beyond their own area is also a financial and mental challenge, especially when limited funds are available to implement these tasks.
c. Understanding the concept of network
Another major concern is the seeming lack of understanding of the concept of networking. From the start, AIPP has envisioned the Secretariat to be staffed with indigenous peoples and this has helped build capacity and confidence. At the same time, it does not want its activities to be concentrated and driven by secretariat staff, but rather ensure participation of all network members in all its activities. The secretariat-driven activity implementation is a common problem faced by many regional and international networks where members rely completely on secretariat staff to do all the activities, and members become mere recipients or have minimal involvement in the projects and activities of the network.
Over the last five years, the AIPP Executive Council adopted a committee system to operationalize the various activities planned, with focal persons from indigenous organisations as members of such committees. Four committees, namely the Human Rights and Advocacy Committee, the Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity Committee, the Gender Committee, and the Research Committee, have provided support and implemented activities. Each committee has focal persons from indigenous peoples organizations as members.
However, much remains to be done in these committees to fully realize their envisioned tasks of fund-raising, and administering and providing continuity of their respective programmes. Much of these committees' work is still done by the secretary general.
To appreciate the concept of networks, member-organizations need to be proactive and think of ways of contributing to the network, rather than a mistaken understanding that the secretariat of the network is there to serve members. AIPP now requests member-organizations to devote human and financial resources as well as activities for regional activities.
AIPP was formed because of felt needs of indigenous peoples in the Asia region. Despite the numerous hurdles it faced since its formation, it has survived as the only regional indigenous, grassroots organisation in Asia. As more local organizations feel the impact and positive outcomes of AIPP's efforts, encouragement and support for AIPP grew. However, indigenous peoples organizations in Asia are urged to go beyond treating networks as a means of meeting their own needs, and to look at meeting the needs of others and of AIPP as a network. AIPP will dedicate its fourth General Assembly in October 2004 to discuss how to build a stronger network in the region.
Jannie Lasimbang is the Secretary General (2000-2004) of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) Foundation.
For further information, please contact: Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), 6 Soi 14, Sookasem Road, Tambon Patan, Amphur Muang 50300 Chiang Mai, Thailand; ph (66-53) 225 262; fax (66-53) 408 351; e-mail: email@example.com