International Learning Exchange participants say global collaboration is crucial gaining recognition and respect for indigenous land rights.
International solidarity in the struggle to protect indigenous land rights was a key message of the International Learning Exchange (ILEX) in Delhi, with delegates from Asia, Africa, and Latin America joining hands in defence of forest rights and human dignity.
At a concluding session of the ILEX on 4 November, panelists from Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, and Tanzania shared their experiences and highlighted the importance of events like the ILEX to strengthen collaboration across countries and regions.
“I am happy that everybody here is fighting the same fight,” said Honorine Wainachi Nengtoh, a civil society activist who was elected to Cameroon’s National Assembly from the country’s Boyo district. “We are the people who are fighting this fight … and we will continue to work to ensure that the laws are implemented to protect our forests.”
The mood was highly emotional at times, with one participant from Malaysia describing how her husband’s struggle for indigenous land rights led to his jailing. Others stressed the importance of not giving up hope.
“Sometimes I feel like we are alone in Tanzania,” said Catherine Losurutia, a gender officer for the Ujamaa Community Resource Team (UCRT) and member of the Maasai community. “Coming here shows that we are not alone, that there are people outside Tanzania who are together with us. Solidarity can take us far.”
Thakur Bhandari, the chairperson of the Federation of Community Forestry Users (FECOFUN) of Nepal, a Tenure Facility partner, said the ILEX has given his organisation the opportunity to share experiences and strengthen advocacy.
Participants noted that even though there is more global attention given to indigenous community land rights, many hurdles remain. These include evictions of indigenous communities and encroachments on traditional lands due to increased pressure from logging, mining, and other commercial activities.
‘The struggle is real’
“The land struggle is real,” said Isaac Tobiko, executive chair of Community Land Action Now! (CLAN) in Kenya, another Tenure Facility partner. “Our struggles are the same. And today one of our communities, the Ogiek in Kenya, are being evicted. They are a forest community that has used all their legal struggles to secure their land, but today they are being evicted.”
“I encourage all the communities to know the law,” Tobiko added, “and to map out your allies in the struggle to help support our communities better.”
Other participants stressed the importance of empowering women and young people to protect natural resources and ensure access to lands. Losurutia of Tanzania said, “Women are a part of the community, they are a part of the Maasai people, and they need representation in the leadership, including the community leadership. We want women to get the opportunity to own the land … the land will be safe in the hands of women.”
The event’s concluding discussion raised numerous questions from the audience. It was moderated by Tenure Facility’s focal point in India, Rohini Chaturvedi.
Another issue that surfaced during the course of the ILEX was the importance of the traditional indigenous forest and land conservation practices in protecting ecosystems. “We are faced with the problem of climate change and it is our forests that will protect us,” noted Wainachi Nengtoh of Cameroon.
Participants from 18 Indian states and around 30 countries engaged in discussions about threats to indigenous communities during the three-day ILEX, which took place on the campus of Delhi University. It was organised by the Policy Development Advisory Group; the Indian School of Business (ISB); the Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiative (SRUTI); Vasundhara; the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi; and the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, in New Delhi.
Tenure Facility was a finance partner of the ILEX. The theme, ‘Radical Forest Futures’, focused on exchanging ideas and building on grass-roots efforts to address risks to strengthen land tenure rights or reverse efforts to weaken them.