National Indigenous Peoples Day: We should be guards of our own culture

Published August 9, 2021, 11:50 AM

by John Legaspi

As we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, let’s remember the importance of the indigenous groups in our country and our role in protecting them

Photo by Noel Pabalate

After Republic Act (RA) No. 10689 was passed in 2015, we now celebrate every Aug. 9 as National Indigenous Peoples Day. This day serves as a recognition not only for the contributions our indigenous brothers and sisters have given to our country, but also to remind us of their rights and collective well-being. After all, as some with argue, they are the bearers of the country’s identity before colonizers made it to our shores.

With recent events in the past week involving social media personality Nusier Yassin (Nas Daily) and cultural treasure Apo Whang-od, it is best to say that we all have learned our lesson. One, that we don’t need affirmation from other people that we have a great culture. Second, that we have a role to play in ensuring the protection of our indigenous tribes.

Whang-Od (Photo from CCP)

University of the Philippines (UP) professor and anthropologist Nestor Castro says Nas does not understand Kalinga culture. But in our case as Filipinos, do we ourselves know it? In our pre-pandemic time, huge groups of tourists climbed up north to Buscalan for a one-of-a-kind experience of getting a tattoo done by a mambabatok from the Butbut tribe. While it is fun and somewhat patriotic, there are some things to ponder and consider before getting one. A Facebook user even expresses an enlightening message after getting tattoos from the tribe.

“I don’t mean to shame anyone who has or wants to get a ‘batok/batuk‘ but what stays on my mind is, I guess, hope,” the Facebook user posted. “That if you have or want to get one, you think about how it came to be and what it has meant before, for lack of a better word, it was, in a sense, tainted.”

“That if you have or plan to get a batuk tattoo, you have earned it the same way as the binatakan,” he continued. “Or at least plan to do so: fight for indigenous rights, stand up for your village, bring honor to your tribe, protect your people.”

According to the National Museum of the Philippines, there are 101 indigenous cultural communities in the country. With this year’s theme, “Leaving no one behind: Indigenous peoples and the call for new social contract,” what can we do to protect them in this age of cultural appropriation and in this era of COVID-19? Below are some suggestions.

Photo by Noel Pabalate

Don’t haggle with or trick them

We cannot blame our indigenous artists for putting a price on their works. In our capitalist world today, it is one of the ways to keep their tradition alive and to make what they are doing—maintaining our identity through various crafts—sustainable. While weaves, tattoos, and even artisanal food are priced almost like luxury goods, what you’re paying for goes to a much greater purpose, which is supporting them.

Photo by Noel Pabalate

Study the laws that support them

This day is all about the rights of indigenous communities and the individuals belonging to them. As mentioned by Prof. Nestor, RA 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, is a law that guarantees “free and prior informed consent is required when the knowledge of indigenous peoples is used for commercial purposes.”

“This consent is secured from the members of the ancestral domain, in this case the members of the Butbut Tribe and not from just one individual or her family,” Prof. Nestor posted. “This is especially true of [what] the Whang-od Academy will reveal to outsiders about the indigenous community’s rituals. The agreement between the parties should also be written in English and the local Kinalingga language and witnessed by the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples.”

Get involved with groups that support them

Apart from government departments and agencies that support them, civil society groups such as People for Accountable Governance and Sustainable Action (PAGASA) continue to protect and fight for rights and needs of indigenous peoples, especially this time of pandemic. From donation drives and educational podcasts to championing indigenous works, you can discover many ways on how you can fully support our ethnic brothers and sisters.

Photo by Noel Pabalate

Learn more about their craft and their life

Our culture and indigenous peoples are more than just for photo ops for your next IG post. Their lives and rituals do not exist just for everyone’s entertainment. If Nas Academy, Nas Daily’s learning platform, is doing its work by halting its operations and working with the National Commission on Indigenous People to correct its ways of presenting our culture to the world, we, too, must do the same.

In situations like this, education remains the key solution. If you want to learn more about our indigenous history, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and National Museum of the Philippines are spotlighting it with a series of online resources and events. And maybe after diving deep digitally on the life and heritage of our indigenous brothers and sisters, we can truly celebrate them and protect them from exploitation.