Standing for the Rights of Indigenous People

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by Enoch Appiah Jr. on Unsplash

Indigenous peoples are under threat as never before. They need the international community to stand with them as they demand justice, their ancestral land rights, and an end to the exploitation and abuse they suffer in many countries.

They suffer discrimination, stigmatization, and racism. How disingenuous that is since all people today descended from some indigenous tribal people through the ages. In fact, DNA tests show that everyone in the world is descended from one common ancestor in Africa. Real science does not lie. The human species emerged in the Makgadikgadi-Okavango wetland. It was not just any home but the ancestral “homeland” for all modern humans today.

Today, there are more than 476 million indigenous peoples that live in 90 nations around the world. According to the United Nations, they make up 6.2 percent of the world population. They have their own unique languages, culture, customs, and traditions and have ancestral rights to their lands, having possessed these from time immemorial. They are capable of self-governance and have survived for many thousands of years before nations emerged in history. In the last 500 years, colonialism spread across the world, and foreign nations invaded the lands of indigenous people, killed millions, and stole and occupied their lands. The indigenous people were infected with western diseases against which they had no defense, and millions more died. Others were massacred and driven to the edge of extinction.

This month is the 500th anniversary since the Spanish conquistadors wiped out the Aztec civilization in South America. In the Philippines, 500 years ago, the Spanish invasion began a war of extermination against the Moro people in Mindanao, which eventually failed, but they conquered the rest of the Islands. The aggression and land-grabbing, and the attempted extermination of groups of indigenous people are still going on.

The murder and attacks against indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest are ongoing as miners, loggers, and agro-farming planters have once again continued to invade ancestral lands in search of gold and plantations. They burn and devastate the environment and drive away indigenous people.

“”This month is the 500th anniversary since the Spanish conquistadors wiped out the Aztec civilization in South America. In the Philippines, 500 years ago, the Spanish invasion began a war of extermination against the Moro people in Mindanao, which eventually failed, but they conquered the rest of the Islands.”

The Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 declared they inflicted a cultural genocide against the Canadian indigenous people. 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly abducted from their natural families and locked up in residential schools. Hundreds of children died from hunger, neglect, malnutrition, disease, physical and sexual abuse. To their eternal shame, the schools were run by religious groups of several denominations, but the Catholic Church had the most schools. They took the children’s human dignity, their language forbidden, their family ties erased.

“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will,” the Commission’s final report declares.

“The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”

“He taught that the rights and dignity of every human being are of eternal value. He said that children are the most important in the Kingdom, and whoever accepts a child accepts him.”

The greatest moral scandal was government agents co-opting churches into running these schools when what the churches did was against the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth himself. He taught that the rights and dignity of every human being are of eternal value. He said that children are the most important in the Kingdom, and whoever accepts a child accepts him. Anyone who hurts a child or drives a child from him or abuses a child ought to be held seriously accountable, according to His millstone statement. (Matt.18:1-7)

In Mindanao, many indigenous groups are aboriginal people inhabiting their ancestral lands for thousands of years. I mention their names to give them their identity, recognition, and respect. They are the Subanen, B’laan, Mandaya, Higaonon, Banwaon, Talaandig, Ubo, Manobo, T’boli, Tiruray, Bagobo, Tagakaolo, Dibabawon, Manguangan and Mansaka . They are collectively known as the People of the Earth or Lumad Peoples. Although a few Philippine officials object to them being called Lumad, the most nationalistic think that the word is the same as a communist.

“Lumad” is a word associated with the Communist Party and its armed wing, the New People’s Army,” the government’s National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) said in the order issued on 4 March 2021.

However, Archbishop Jose Cabantan of Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, disputed this and said the order branded the indigenous people as insurgents and rebels. “The [NCIP’s] order only reveals its members’ ignorance as to how the struggles of the Lumad have unfolded in Mindanao over the last sixty years,” he said. “It arose without an ideological agenda, let alone that of the Communist movement.”

It arose out of a united people’s concern to defend the rights of the Lumad from the perspective of a Christian faith that is concerned with the least of our brothers and sisters, victimized by both a repressive state and businesses interested in usurping the Lumads’ ancestral domains for profit,” he said.

“Indigenous peoples need honest rulers of integrity who believe in the rule of law …

All in all, the indigenous people are estimated to comprise fifteen percent of the country’s total population of about 100 million (Journal of Philippine Statistics, 2008: 92). Paramilitary groups have killed as many as 71 indigenous leaders in recent years. They are tasked to drive the people from their ancestral lands so that mining corporations and palm-oil plantations owned by agri-corporations can continue moving in and taking the land for their mining and plantations. They are destroying the environment and remaining forests in the process.

All this is against Philippine law, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997. The law is supposed to protect the rights of the indigenous people. However, like many laws in the Philippines, they don’t apply to the rich and powerful politicians and their business cronies. Some big business corporations supported by their “elected” cronies and puppets in government work to grab the indigenous people’s forests, minerals, water, land, and resources and grow incredibly rich.

Indigenous peoples need honest rulers of integrity who believe in the rule of law and are supported by an enlightened public that supports and lives the values of goodness, justice, and their rights.

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1 comment

Bobby M Reyes August 25, 2021 - 5:04 pm

Hi, Fr. Shay. My series called the “ReVotelution of H.O.P.E.” will offer a proven solution for the ethnic minorities in the Philippines — from the Muslims, Lumad, Manobo, Mangyan, Aetas, Ifugao and other tribes in the BIBAK Region. I will include a link to your instant op-ed piece. Thank you for your presumed permission.

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