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BAGUIO CITY – The Regional Development Council (RDC) Committee on Indigenous Peoples’ Concerns (CIPC) conducted the first two of four webinars hosted by Committee Co-Chair Ryan Mangusan on October 7th and 14th , respectively. Guest speakers from the Cordillera academe discussed the various cultural injustices faced by Cordilleran indigenous peoples (IPs). UP Baguio Chancellor and history professor Raymundo Rovillos and Benguet State University Director of Extension Services and social sciences professor Stanley Anongos gave their take on cultural misrepresentation and cultural appropriation, respectively. The activity was organized by Cordillera office of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA-CAR) as secretariat of the RDC and CIPC.
There have been numerous issues of misrepresentation and cultural misappropriation throughout the years. Recently, Cordilleran IPs called out the mis-labelling in various textbooks approved by the Department of Education, such as Aetas as natives of Mountain Province and the Banaue Rice Terraces as being found in the Ilocos Region, among others. Outcry also came about with the release of sandals labelled “Kankana-ey” from a known local footwear brand and as well as attempts to reproduce Kalinga tattoo artist Whang-od’s designs on hats and shirts by an international clothing brand.
On October 7, Dr. Rovillos stressed that the existing cultural misrepresentation among Cordillera indigenous peoples is a product of long-standing institutional factors over centuries of ethnocentrism, discrimination, and plain ignorance brought about by colonization. He emphasized that centuries of a colonial power deciding on what is considered to be culture led to those they were unable to colonize to be labelled as “savages” or “uncultured”. These misconceptions were entrenched in the day-to-day life, educational institutions, and even government policies of the country. Rovillos urged indigenous peoples to take part in the narrative and use the advantages available now to help change these misrepresentations.
On October 14, Dr. Anongos continued the dialogue on the challenges that IPs in the region face in terms of representing their culture and heritage with a sharing on cultural appropriation. Appropriation in itself is not necessarily a negative practice. Anongos gave the example of the various indigenous fabrics being used as commercial products that have created a widespread appreciation of Cordilleran weaving. However, he asserted that people must be critical in observing these appropriations so as not to make the mistake of using the name of an ethno-linguistic group to describe footwear. Echoing Dr. Rovillos, Anongos stressed the need for proper research and documentation of cultural heritage in all levels from the material such as weaves and sculptures to the more abstract like knowledge systems and dances. In this way, the people themselves can agree and determine the proper use of their culture by themselves and by outsiders.
The RDC Committee on Indigenous Peoples Concerns scheduled four webinars throughout October for this year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Month Celebration. This year’s nation-wide theme of “Correcting Historical Injustices for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and Welfare” recognizes progressive steps made towards the recognition of indigenous peoples and their plight while reminding the country that the work is not yet done.
By Marlo Lubguban