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As the country commemorates Indigenous Peoples’ Month this October, 19-year old Carol Jean Mendoza of the Ibaloi and Kankanaey-Buguias tribes in Benguet calls on her fellow youth to “support our own.”
In 2009, Proclamation No. 1906 designated October as Indigenous Peoples’ Month to promote the preservation and protection of Philippine indigenous peoples’ rights and culture. The Ibaloi—also called Nabaloi—of which Carol Jean is part, is an indigenous ethnic group in Benguet, particularly in the municipalities of Kabayan, Bokod, Sablan, Tublay, La Trinidad, Tuba, and Itogon, and the southern portions of Kapangan and Atok.
According to Carol Jean, the value of respect is deeply ingrained in the Ibaloi community. “It’s definitely the IP group that highly emphasizes the true essence of the word ‘respect’,” she says. She carries pride in this part of her identity and makes sure to integrate her cultural practice and beliefs in life. “Nakaman-Ibadoy ni inaakew.” (“I speak my own language on the daily.”)
On the challenges faced by IPs, she finds the country’s poor impression of indigenous people as problematic. “Many people don’t realize that we are the hope of the country. Being part of the indigenous people makes us the bravest, strongest, and highly respected. We uplift the Filipino humanity with the values and self-esteem that we develop in ourselves.”
However, she’s far from intimidated by these misconceptions. Currently staying with a family belonging to another IP community, the Kankanaey-Buguias, in the urban areas of La Trinidad, Benguet, she continues to make her way in the world with her identity as IP and her commitment to explore and promote indigenous cultures. “I converse with my classmates from other tribes; highlanders and lowlanders. I respect them and deeply understand our differences.”
Carol Jean is taking up BS Education in Benguet State University, where she is a beneficiary of SN Aboitiz Power-Benguet’s Bridging Gaps in Higher Education through Tertiary Scholarships (BRIGHTS) Program. Her hope is for the younger generation to have more interest in advocating for IP culture, and she believes that education brings her a step closer to this goal. “Jose Rizal said that the youth is the hope of the nation. I believe that it is our duty to prepare ourselves as future stewards of our beloved land. My degree helps me to further enlighten myself, and to get along with other people better. We study about culture-related topics, particularly indigenous knowledge, political institutions, and the languages of Cordillera. All of this will be my guide in my future teaching career.”
She encourages participation in community activities related to their culture and practices, something that being a SNAP scholar has helped her amplify. “I’m always inspired to wave the banner of IPs in various activities and competitions, such as cultural dances and indigenous games. SNAP became one of my bridges to fill the gap between me being a voiceless youth and me becoming the ‘voice’ of youth.”
BRIGHTS is a scholarship initiative under SNAP’s corporate social responsibility program. It targets deserving students with limited means from the company’s immediate host communities. Aside from financial assistance, BRIGHTS also seeks to develop well-rounded leaders by encouraging scholars to participate in outreach programs for the communities and the environment, as well as providing them with leadership seminars.