Escalating Indigenous Voices, Together: Indigenous Voices in Asia Network

IMG_2505Indigenous Voices in Asia Network (IVAN)[1] organized its 3rd gathering in Chiang Mai from 4 – 7 November, 2015. This year, representatives from various fields converged at the Indigenous Voices in Asia Media Showcasing Fair 2015 to discuss emerging issues in relation to media, human rights, gender and development with the purpose of moving forward the rights of indigenous peoples in solidarity with media professionals, rights activists and academics.

The fair, organized by IVAN, a program under the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (APP), gathered over 60 participants from across Asia. While many we are dedicated indigenous positivists, particularly those who are working in advancing indigenous rights through various forms of media such as print, social media and community radio, the strong presence of journalists from mainstream, alternative and online media allowed for an enriching and inspiring environment for participants to learn and exchange skills and ideas.

“We are gathered here because there is a pressing need to make indigenous peoples more visible and promote the right to information. We need to find ways in which we can work together to address the issues. We all know the situation is worsening, especially the worrying developments on freedom and access to information,” Secretary General of AIPP, Joan Carling explained to the participants.

The format which the fair used to flesh out issues faced by indigenous peoples in regards to media was done through interactive sessions on thematic issues in a talk show format.

While domestic challenges vary from country to country, all indigenous peoples in Asia face one common hurdle; the lack of indigenous people working in media.

One of the panel speakers, Mr. Hit Thapa from the Federation of Nepalese Indigenous Nationalities (FONIJ) shared revealing statistics.

“Indigenous journalist in Nepal comprise of only 17.2% of the total journalists. That figure is very low when indigenous peoples represent 37% of the total population. And, there are only 400 indigenous female journalists are working in the mainstream media in Nepal, which is a very petty number,” shared Mr. Thapa.

In many other Asian countries however, such statistics are lacking if not irrelevant. Rather than fighting for representation in media, indigenous peoples in countries such as Cambodia are too preoccupied fighting for survival.

In Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, non-government organizations (NGO) and media struggle to find common ground. Distrust among the two groups has created a wide gap and as such, there is little understanding of what is truly happening on the ground.

For some counties, participants shared that journalists operate under a climate a fear. Reporting on issues deemed sensitive by the government, would end up in arrest for journalists in Laos and Myanmar.

There are however, better progress in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, with improved collaboration between the indigenous peoples and media with social media playing a big role in the Philippines especially, in mainstreaming indigenous peoples issues. However, many long standing issues still prevail such as the romanticizing of indigenous peoples and the lack of interest by the broader public on indigenous issues.

Focus group discussions held between the interactive sessions allowed for some innovative solutions to address the challenges highlighted. One resounding recommendation supported by the forum was to build capacity for both activists, on improving how they report and understand what journalists want, and training for non-indigenous media practitioners to be more sensitized to indigenous peoples issues.

IMG_3153The broader and long-term recommendation was for a directive from media outlets to designate a focal person to report on indigenous peoples issues. The strengthening of national networks was also emphasized in order to move forward.

The media fair concluded with skills training workshops on social media strategies, video documentation and basic cartoon training. Those skills were applied the next day during the exposure trip where participants had the choice of visiting an indigenous Lisu village called La Woo to learn about their struggle in access to resources, or Dong Dam, a Plong (or Pwo) Karen village. In Dong Dam, participants were able to learn about how their community radio was established and how it operates.

Through the four days, participants of the fair opened a floodgate of ideas, inspiring one another to overcome the challenges they face.

“The media fair gave me a chance to understand better the different challenges that journalists in the South and South East Asia face, while reporting on issues of indigenous peoples. It was an extremely impassioned few days, we brought together the purpose of why we do what we do, i.e., journalism, and at such times when globalisation means uniformed sense of violence and oppression against indigenous peoples, it was heart-warming and inspiring to see the strength and courage of fellow journalists in the region,” shared Priyanka Borpujari, a freelance journalist from India, winner of the IVA Award 2015 for outstanding reporting for promoting indigenous peoples’ visions and practices in sustainable development and mainstreaming local struggles of the indigenous peoples. The theme of the 2015 award was, “Issues and concerns of indigenous women in Asia in relation to the post 2015 sustainable development agenda“. For detail:

She added, “I especially benefitted from the information that was shared lucidly by the people at AIPP, which has expanded my knowledge base, to thus help me be better at my reporting on issues of indigenous peoples.”


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