By Marivir R. Montebon
As leaders, scientists, and environment officers in Paris are dealing with the nitty gritty of a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and its budget to lessen extreme climate changes and promote Earth-friendly energy sources, OSM! features one woman who has spent her adult life immersing with indigenous tribes as they preserve and protect forests and their heritage from the onslaught of modernization and militarization in Bukidnon.
Way past the rhetoric of presidents, Easterluna Luz Canoy, executive director for the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs (KIN) remains relentless in her efforts at educating and boosting indigenous tribes to preserve what little is left of their sacred lands. A graduate of AB Anthropology at the University of San Carlos in Cebu, she shares a life of wisdom and humility beckoned from the lumad peoples of Talaandig, Higaonon, and Bukidnon of Mt. Kitanglad.
Excerpts of our interview:
1. In your experience, what is the most challenging part of forest conservation and curbing climate changes? Is it raising funds, raising awareness or security? Please expound.
I believe the most challenging is building awareness about the remote stakeholders who since from the time of their ancestors had been protecting the forests and managing their resource rich territories by holding on to their culture and identity.
The indigenous peoples walked on lands since the day they learned to walk as toddlers. They are close to the Earth Mother and knew its pains and consequences of desecration.
We modern people, so to speak, are used to walk on cemented paths –that’s why we lose our basic connection to the Earth. Reconnecting is challenging too.
2. There is an ongoing climate change summit in Paris right now. How so we effectively address destruction and global warming locally?
According to the tribes here in Bukidnon, during the Lambaga Tribal Summit of 7 Mountains participated by elders, ritualists and healers, climate change is but a consequence of the change of heart among us human beings.
From being the ‘true stewards of nature’ we became its abuser because the demands of our needs and desires are being fed by nature more than its pace and capacity. Up to now, despite the wrath of historic storms hitting the country from Sendong, to Pablo and Yolanda, our government keeps approving mining and huge quarrying activities and of course, biggest the clap goes to coal power plant and hydropower operations which will be knocking on our doors till the next 10 years or so.
If we are unable to undo this trend, then I would agree on this age of stupidity, we are accelerating the perils that await to erase this human race that is predominantly uncaring and simply aspire for material glory and unceasing accumulation of wealth day by day.
2. The consciousness of indigenous peoples are totally different from modern people in ways of life. I wonder if modern society could emulate those Earth-respecting ways. Is there any hope for us?
The way to go right now is to go back to the indigenous. People are beginning to realize that. I believe there is hope.
The tribes of Mt. Kitanglad summon the Great Creator which in their word is named Magbabaya (Giver/Source). All other spirits in nature had been assigned to the world to guard sacred natural resources. We humans co-exist with them and that there should be peaceful coexistence.
The tribe’s shaman and healers communicate to them in every rite that the tribe celebrate from womb to tomb. Asking permission for each activity from birthing, naming, baptism, opening of a field, planting, harvesting, fishing, hunting, weaving, making music instruments, blessing of visitors. There are plenty when they sought graces and blessings.
If we lose our deep spiritual connections to nature as part of the great creations, our sense of inter-being is meaningless. According to a Jesuit anthropologist — the future is indigenous! The tribes will remind us of our fragile and connected sense of being.
3. So you are saying that the indigenous people revere a genderless deity?
Yes. I think so. The greatest leader of the tribe is hailed as Ininay-Inamay (Mother-Father virtue) who can balance the compassionate and loving heart of a mother and a protective and righteous stance of the father.
4. You have a rich experience at environmental and indigenous culture preservation. Is there an ongoing documentation for people to learn from?
We are partners with the USAID in documenting our indigenous cultures. Sad to say, it has been five years that we appealed to our government to support our effort to documen customary laws of the tribes which they do by themselves. It is called emic research, since for almost 20-30 years, the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park has been an object of researchers who now have MA or PhD degrees, me included.
But only a few have returned to share the benefit back to the community. So in a way, the USAID has helped realize this dream.