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Safeguarding Indigenous Cultural Landscapes

At a UNPFII side event, Indigenous leaders and partners discuss an Indigenous-led strategy to protect Mother Earth guided by Indigenous vision, practices, and ancestral knowledge.

The FSC Indigenous Foundation (FSC-IF) and USAID hosted the event: Safeguarding Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: An Indigenous-led Strategy for Actions to Protect Mother Earth to discuss how Indigenous-based solutions, Indigenous rights-based approaches, and Indigenous culture, values, and principles are key to achieving Indigenous self-development, self-governance, and self-reliance within their Indigenous Cultural Landscapes and territories.

This rich discussion took place on Tuesday, April 18th in the framework of the 22nd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held in New York City.

Speakers included: Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, FSC-IF Council Vice Chair, Stephanie Conduff, USAID Senior Indigenous Peoples Advisor, Francisco Souza, FSC-IF Managing Director, Sara Omi, President of the Coordinator of Women Territorial Leaders of the Mesoamerican Alliance for Peoples and Forests (AMPB), Rodion Sulyandziga, Chairperson of the Forest Stewardship Council Permanent Indigenous Peoples Committee (PIPC), Gideon Abraham Ole Sanago, Coordinator for Climate Change Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organizations (PINGO’s Forum), Daniel Kobei, Executive Director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program and Anders Blom, FSC-IF Council Chair.

Sara Omi, Anders Blom, and Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim opened the event.   

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim discussed the need for Indigenous Peoples to have access to finance for climate action and biodiversity conservation. “In order to protect the forest, we need to have access to finance to build a better future together,” she said. “This panel is a great way for us Indigenous Peoples to share and construct the future together.” 

USAID and the FSC-IF have a common goal: to provide support for Indigenous Peoples and to protect nature. The FSC-IF is an Indigenous-led global organization, and our work is driven to serve Indigenous Peoples’ communities and partners to achieve their long-term goal of promoting sustainable self-development of their forests and landscapes in line with their knowledge, ancestral rights, and cosmovision as traditional pillars for their self-governance and self-reliance objectives. The FSC-IF Global Strategy 2023-2027 was designed to reflect the aspirations of Indigenous Peoples as the drivers of our organization. It provides guidance to the governance, decision-making process, management, and operations toward achieving our mission and strategic objectives.

Francisco Souza presented the FSC Indigenous Foundation Strategic Plan. “For us to be successful, we need to be led by, for, and with Indigenous Peoples.”

He also spoke about the core of the Strategy: Indigenous Cultural Landscapes. “Indigenous Cultural Landscapes for us are to recognize and acknowledge the cultural and traditional way Indigenous Peoples manage their territories on the ground.”

USAID’s PRO-IP policy guides development practitioners to strengthen the design and management of programs that affect Indigenous Peoples. These efforts should contribute to deepening the impact of activities and creating more sustainable outcomes by effectively and appropriately partnering with Indigenous Peoples and addressing their challenges throughout the program cycle.

Stephanie Conduff reaffirmed the commitment of USAID to support Indigenous Peoples and help them implement their nature-based solutions. She said, “For us, it is very important to be here, the solutions are here.”

Next, a panel discussed Indigenous Cultural Landscapes.

Sara Omi emphasized the role of Indigenous women in nature-based solutions and highlighted the urgent need for them to be fully included at all levels. “Women have our own vision of how to repair our Mother Earth who is sick.”

Rodion Sulyandziga spoke about Indigenous Cultural Landscapes and how they embody Indigenous Peoples’ relationship with nature. “Our planet knows how to heal itself. It does not need saving – we do. We must change our minds and our approach,” he said. 

Next, Gideon Abraham Ole Sanago spoke about environmental defenders, and their challenges to defend nature in Africa. “Where the forest is intact is where others want to do business and hunting, this is a big challenge we are facing.”

Daniel Kobei discussed a rights-based approach to Indigenous Cultural Landscapes, providing the example of the Ogiek Peoples. He talked about the two court cases they won for their land rights. “Let us understand the issues of Indigenous Peoples, they are very unique, they are cross-cutting,” he said. “We [Indigenous Peoples] are dealing with landscapes.”

Participants had the opportunity to engage with the panel and ask questions. Salina Sanou, IPARD Program Deputy Director and Regional Director for Africa and Asia for the FSC-IF, moderated the panel. “We are a very unique as a Foundation because we have that capacity to be able to work with Indigenous Peoples globally,” she added.

All speakers agreed on the interconnectivity of Indigenous Peoples with their land, and the key role they must play in protecting this land for the benefit of us all.

Anders Blom closed the event, “Land is a fundamental asset for the sustainable economic development of Indigenous Peoples.” 

View a recording of the event here.

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Launching the FSC Indigenous Foundation Global Strategy 2023-2027

Our Strategy was developed by, with, and for Indigenous Peoples to promote and support Indigenous-led actions and solutions.

We are Indigenous Peoples; our strategies and our future actions are shaped by ancestral knowledge, practices, cosmovision, values, and respect for Mother Earth and our past. 

We are Indigenous Peoples; we are ancestral guardians of Indigenous-based solutions to global challenges. We are part of the 500 million brothers and sisters who live, populate, and safeguard Mother Earth.

The FSC Indigenous Foundation is the global vehicle to design, manage, facilitate, and scale up Indigenous-led solutions through multi-sectoral partnerships.

The FSC Indigenous Foundation presents its Global Strategy 2023-2027, designed to reflect the aspirations of Indigenous Peoples as drivers of our organization.

The Strategy envisions to contribute to a future where Indigenous Peoples are recognized as providers, agents, guardians, and partners in solutions to global challenges including climate change, biodiversity loss, natural ecosystem degradation, desertification, and deforestation.

It was developed following an Indigenous perspective driven by Indigenous values, vision, principles, ancestral knowledge, and traditional practices connected to Mother Earth. It was shaped to respond to key challenges and opportunities faced by Indigenous Peoples to achieve their self-development, self-governance, and self-reliance.

The core action area of our strategy is Indigenous Cultural Landscapes, which guide and incorporate a holistic territorial perspective into all our programmatic areas of work.

Learn more and read our Global Strategy 2023 – 2027 here.

We look forward to working with you to support and promote Indigenous Peoples as key actors and providers of solutions to fight global challenges and promote inclusive and rights-based development for everyone.  

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Comarca Naso Tjër Di continues the revision of its Organic Charter in Drudi  

The Organic Charter is fundamental to legalize and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ rights in a territory

The project Strengthening of the Indigenous Agenda of Panama (FAIP for its initials in Spanish) concluded the elaboration of the Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca (territory) on February 21st in the community of Drudi.  

This process of revising the articles of the Naso Organic Charter began last October in the community of Sieyllik, the capital of the comarca. At that time, the project’s technical team reviewed more than half of the articles that make up the official document.  

The Organic Charter organizes the method to elect authorities, the geographical limits of the comarca, the cultural organization of the Naso people, land use regulation, and relations between state institutions, among other topics.  

During the five days of the workshop, the technical team, traditional authorities, experts in Naso culture and history, and community representatives agreed on several points of the Naso constitution. 

“For us, it is a new world to start writing the Organic Charter. We had no idea what the Organic Charter was, but after researching, we discovered that it is a statute where the laws that regulate the coexistence and social peace of the Naso region are located. When we were given this challenge, I did not know what I was going to face, but I believe that we assumed it with responsibility.”

Yeraldin Villagra, teacher in the Comarca Naso

“We are securing our future generation so that we can conserve our identity and our natural resources.”

Reynaldo Alexis Santana, King of the Naso Comarca

FAIP is an inter-institutional and international effort that seeks to strengthen Indigenous governance in Panama through the elaboration and publication of Organic Charters of four Indigenous territories. We chose to use a methodology of workshops convened by the authorities and facilitated by a recognized expert in Indigenous Law, doctor in Peace, Conflict, and Democracy Alejandro Bonilla, where community members discuss various issues such as restorative justice, international law, and land systems.

About the community

The community of Drudi is settled on a plain surrounded by mountains and the Ganadera Bocas Livestock Company, about 45 minutes from Changuinola through extensive pastures for cows and horses that were created by deforesting the province.  

Drudi was the scene of years of struggles between the community and Ganadera Bocas. At its peak, around 200 uniformed men broke into Drudi and burned the 20 houses that made up the settlement. The residents went to Panama City and slept in Santa Ana Park waiting for a response from the government.  

Today the Naso Tjër Di Comarca celebrates two and a half years of having been recognized by the State, when President Laurentino Cortizo signed the Law creating the comarca in December 2020 and returned sovereignty over their land to the Naso people.   

FAIP is funded by USAID and the FSC, implemented by the FSC Indigenous Foundation, and framed within the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) Program, executed in coordination with the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), the Coordinating Committee of Territorial Women Leaders (CMLT) and the Association of Women Artisans of Ipetí – Emberá (AMARIE)

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Cultural references  

Indigenous women of the Emberá Ipetí community preserve and share their ancestral knowledge

Indigenous women are creators and guardians of culture, and their identity and belonging stem from this role. Recognition of identity and culture is crucial for the personal, social, and economic empowerment of Indigenous women. 

“Our cultural value, our identity, our language, will not die. That our way of living does not die, that our dance does not die, that our hair does not disappear, that our water does not disappear, that our way of being does not disappear. So, that is why identity is very important, because we want to continue resisting. Because nobody will value us, nobody will recognize us, nobody will respect us, if we do not maintain our identity in order to resist,” says Omaira Casama, leader in the Emberá Ipetí community located in eastern Panama. 

The FSC Indigenous Foundation, through the Indigenous Peoples Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) Program, is making a pioneering commitment to support the rescue of the cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples. This project is part of the Economic Empowerment Plan for Indigenous Women of Panama (PEMIP 2025), developed by the Committee of Indigenous Women of Panama (CAMIP) and supported by the Government of Panama, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the FSC Indigenous Foundation.  

To develop a methodology for the restoration of cultural references of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama and apply it in a first pilot project, we worked in co-creation with the women of the Emberá Ipetí community. ENRED Panama and Norlando Meza of TV Indígena supported this project. 

Together we gathered a vision of the Emberá culture, based on the empowerment and self-determination of the women and men of the community. The community identified the thirteen priority cultural references to be mapped and documented in two focus group sessions, each lasting 6 hours, in which a total of 17 women and 4 men participated.  

None of this work could have been accomplished without the community, its traditional governments and representatives, and without their free, prior, and informed consent. 

Everything is collective  

An important element of the Emberá culture is that everything is collective, including the process to restore cultural practices. “Starting with the spiritual theme and the vision that spirituality teaches us, is that our way of living is collective,” explains Omaira.

“We cannot only see a theme of cultural rescue with a single woman or a single young woman or a single man. Because what we live is a collective coexistence. The food is not cooked by just one woman, it is cooked by all the women who come to talk, to tell that story and it is always the adolescents and the girls who are learning, so that is why it also has to do with a process of sharing, with a process of teaching and with a process that the food we are giving is healthy, that everything is natural.” 

Embera face and body painting is linked to their cosmovision. It is one of the most important manifestations of their culture. Painting each other’s skin expresses the relationships between the members of the community, where each plant, each animal, and each element has a place in their cosmovision and a reason for being. 

Methodology and database 

The methodology developed in the pilot project presents a tool to provide Indigenous women with an organized and authentic vision of their culture to enhance social cohesion, transmission to youth, communication, and generation of economic activity. 

The guide establishes three main categories of cultural references:  

  • The body  
  • The structures and dynamics of community life  
  • Relationships in the territory and with the land of their ancestors.  

Everything points to a continuum between nature and culture, natural order and social order, and individual and community. In addition, time and the calendar occupy a prominent place as a meta-element. Time, in this case, is presented as the way to move forward, to develop the rescue of cultural references. 

We also produced twelve audiovisual references of the Emberá Ipetí community with accompanying texts and created a Database of Cultural References of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama where these resources are classified and can be accessed. 

In this series of videos, the women of the community explain and demonstrate their knowledge, including: 

  • Baby ritual (Warrazaque) 
  • Cultural house (Wera de) 
  • Rice ball (Bododji) 
  • Collection of chunga (Iwa / Nawal, Jupijapa, Carludovica palmata) 
  • Dyeing of the chunga (Iwa Zoadia) 
  • Senora Nely’s basket (Hösig di) 
  • Body painting (Kiparada Odia / Jawa) 
  • Preparation of pumpkin (Zan Dodi Karea) 
  • Preparation of corn (Be badia) 
  • Preparing the sacred space (Dau Zadia Jaibana) 
  • Opening of the room (Chimbombom / Karidia Werada) 
  • Spiritual cleansing (Dau Zadia) 

Watch the videos here: (in Spanish) 

“We Indigenous women need organizations, like the [Indigenous] Foundation, that give us hope, that give us confidence to continue challenging the process of social construction of Indigenous women, because many times when we do not have that confidence, we do not have those strategic allies. There are many people who continue speaking on behalf of Indigenous women and that is what we are not looking for. Maybe we have been able to reach their thoughts and their hearts and to be able to implement this great project of the needs and aspirations of Indigenous women, so that this knowledge can be transmitted from generation to generation,” says Omaira. 

Future pilots will be carried out with other Indigenous communities of Panama to expand the Database of Cultural References and involve more Indigenous women in the cultural restoration process for empowerment, the transmission of knowledge to future generations, and for the promotion of economic activity.  

There are different forms of cultural houses: the bat house, with a trunk in the center, representing men, and the women’s house, without a trunk because the women support themselves collectively. For the Emberá community it is important to take good care of nature and build the house with love, for the good of the new generations. 

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