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close this bookTraditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development (WB)
close this folderSummary of the conference proceedings
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentTraditional knowledge and cultural survival
View the documentTraditional knowledge, land, and the environment
View the documentTraditional knowledge and agricultural sustainability
View the documentContributions of traditional medicine to health
View the documentTraditional institutions and participation
View the documentGovernment policies and traditional knowledge
View the documentBuilding a new partnership
View the documentConclusion

Building a new partnership

The central theme of the International Year of the World's Indigenous People was "Indigenous People A New Partnership." The idea of the Year was to lay the groundwork for more open and cooperative relationships among indigenous peoples' organizations, governments, and international agencies. No one expected that the creation of such a "new partnership" would be easy, especially given the history of the relationships and paternalistic attitudes of governments and international agencies toward indigenous peoples. However, some interesting experiments are taking place, which were discussed at the conference and which potentially could provide insights for governments and international agencies that are seeking more effective ways of relating to indigenous peoples.

One program that was described in some detail is the Regional Support Program of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon Basin of South America. This program is sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Andean Development Corporation (CAF). It was conceived by IFAD economist Roberto Haudry de Soucy after long years of experience working and living with South American Indian people and, at the time of the conference, was coordinated by Brazilian Indian leader Jorge Terena.

A major innovation of the Amazon Basin Support Program is that it works in direct partnership with a growing network of regional Indian organizations, providing them with small grants to carry out pre-investment projects that will assist them in protecting their land rights; improving the health and education of their members; and strengthening their capacity to maintain their traditional knowledge, cultures, and ethnic identities. As mentioned in Chapter 1, Haudry's idea is that by "investing in the culture" of indigenous peoples, through the protection of their land rights and strengthening of their own organizations, international financial institutions (IFIs) have the best chance of promoting the long-term economic development of indigenous communities.

In his presentation Jorge Terena highlighted some ideas behind the Regional Support Program, as well as some of the new thinking that he and other South American indigenous leaders are trying to introduce into the international development dialogue.

I am very glad that the speakers we heard today have been talking about their traditions, customs, and social structures. I think this is a very clear message that we are trying to give the World Bank and other financial institutions. The message is that you must respect our culture, our social structure, and our way of living before you can offer us anything else different.

It has been 500 years that colonialism has been trying to offer us something different; yet for 500 years the world still has not recognized our traditional knowledge. In these 500 years little has been learned about our cultures.

We have anthropologists, sociologists, and economists trying to resolve our problems. They come up with words like "sustainable development." Sustainable development, they say, is going to solve the world's problems and society's problems, or the poor's problems. Yet, as we look at the history of development as a whole, it has not resolved the problems of the world. As a matter of fact, this development has become a source of poverty.

It has been about two decades since the financial institutions have been trying to start something with this sustainable development. They have not even defined what it is yet. Now, within the last five years, the world has realized that indigenous peoples have something to give to the modern world. The world is beginning to recognize the knowledge we have accumulated over years and years. They realize that this knowledge can resolve part of the problem.

Indigenous People and International Financial Institutions

The requests from indigenous people that call for immediate support from the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) concern basically:

1. Demarcation of specific territories and the establishment of titles thereof

2. Strengthening indigenous organizations and their capacity to enter into dialogue

3. Support for self-managed micro-projects in health, bilingual education, and other fields wherein the "partners" are selected and contracted exclusively by the indigenous organizations and not predetermined by the donors.

It is of great importance to gear any financial aid carefully to the capacity that the respective indigenous people and their organizations possess for managing such aid. At present, the management capacity is very poor, and it would be a serious mistake to "inundate" indigenous people with money. It is essential to hand over funds in a limited, progressive fashion and to insist on a careful rendering of account. [Therefore], any action should be conceived in terms of pre-investment, such that the indigenous people may affirm their cultural values, address their urgent needs, and prepare themselves for managing sizable funds and investment that will be sustainable in the long term. For the IFls, action here means a learning process and no project financing (since, in official parlance a "project" has objectives, time spans, and costs that are carefully calculated), and it is here that we are largely ignorant and have to learn and accompany our partners in pursuing approaches that they have chosen.

- Roberto Haudry de Soucy

Terena then explained how the World Bank, IFAD, and other financial institutions can improve their development projects with indigenous peoples.

The first thing I would like to suggest is that you must consider land demarcation. I mention this because in Latin America we're fighting to get the governments to recognize our land as our own so that on our own land we can set up any kind of program we want. If you want to talk about development that needs to come from the community, from the inside not the outside, first we must secure the land....

How are institutions going to convince the governments in Latin America that they must mark the land to strengthen the identity of our people? They do not want to, because governments and our communities are fighting for the same things - the control of the land. Historically, we have the rights to the land, but according to the laws it belongs to the government.

I believe that as long as there are indigenous peoples on the face of the earth, this battle is going to go on. But, if we want to talk about helping the indigenous peoples to get somewhere, at least help us to mark our lands.

The second thing we must change is the spokesmen for whatever these institutions want to do. The government has spokesmen telling the international financial institutions what to do with our people without asking our people. [The government] might send somebody to go and jot on a piece a paper what they think the indigenous peoples want to do.. Yet, when the indigenous peoples come to discuss their own ideas with the government, that's not what the government wants.

The international financial institutions must not only hear, but support, what it is that the indigenous peoples want. That means spending time with the indigenous community. I'm glad that we have begun a process here in this meeting. But it's not because of three or four hours of meeting or three or four hours of people talking about culture and tradition that we're going to learn. The real learning is out in the field. That is where the planners and economists need to be - talking to the indigenous peoples to see what they want. The international institutions need to say to the government that this is what the [indigenous] peoples want and [this is] what we're going to support.

As a third element, Terena claimed:

We must consider the strengthening of indigenous organizations. Because colonialism has tried to destroy our system of living, our social structure, our economic structure, we were forced to organize. We had to create organizations in order to defend our rights before the governments and the institutions. That is why there are so many indigenous organizations in the world. We need spokesmen to defend our rights, our land rights, our cultural rights....

Because these organizations usually do not have the means to come to a forum like this and present their defense, what is needed is to build up and strengthen these institutions. Help build up the community organizations. We're not talking about only national organizations but organizations at the base where the needs are most felt.

The last thing that Terena mentioned as needing assistance from the international financial institutions is indigenous leadership training.

But this is just the beginning. If you really want to help indigenous peoples you must address these four considerations: land demarcation, consultation, organizational strengthening, and leadership training. Otherwise, I think the attitude will continue to be just wanting to help the indigenous peoples without giving them the means to solve their own problems. Otherwise, the exploitation of our land and our natural resources will continue. More and more we will continue to be put into the market economy that will destroy our people.

In the discussion following Jorge Terena's presentation, Maritta Koch-Weser, Chief of the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Asia Technical Department of the World Bank, stressed the urgency of the issues raised by him and the other panelists. In large areas of the world indigenous peoples find themselves without the secure land tenure that he mentioned. Similarly, the voices of indigenous peoples are seldom heard within the halls of government or international financial institutions. Thus, development policies and projects continue to be planned without the informed participation of indigenous peoples. This in turn leads to the loss of valuable cultural knowledge and heritage, which could be the bases of sustainable development.

In his closing remarks, which appear in the following chapter, World Bank Vice President for Environmentally Sustainable Development Ismail Serageldin also stressed the urgency of the situation faced by indigenous peoples and the importance for development of respecting and supporting their cultural knowledge, heritage, and identities.