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The University of the Philippines Baguio (UPB) hosts the third International Conference on Cordillera Studies (ICCS3) throughout July 2021. Opened on 5 July 2021 as among the highlights of the 60th anniversary of the re-establishment of UPB, the virtual conference organized by the Cordillera Studies Center (CSC) runs through all Mondays of the month.
Held via virtual meetings and simultaneous online public broadcast, ICCS3 focuses on the central theme “Indigenous Peoples and the Sustainable Development Goals.” Through this theme, the CSC performs its role as a research center that mobilizes knowledge communities to seek solutions for sustainable development concerns, according to CSC Director Dr. Ruth M. Tindaan. ICCS3 is also being held as UPB’s contribution to the celebrations of Cordillera Month in commemoration of the 34th anniversary of the founding of the Cordillera Administrative Region.
On day 1 of ICCS3, the plenary speaker, Dr. Maria Assunta C. Cuyegkeng of the Department of Leadership and Strategy of the John Gokongwei School of Management, Ateneo de Manila University, gave a walk-through the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and highlighted the role of Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized groups in the attainment of the SDGs. In her lecture on “Localizing SDGs through Stakeholder Engagement and an Enabling Ecosystem,” she gave an overview of the performance of the Philippines in SDGs, pointing out concerns in relation to the indicators of “how close we are to getting an acceptable quality of life for our people.”
Achieving safe, just, and sustainable space, according to Dr. Cuyegkeng, needs a delicate balance that can only be achieved when people talk and agree on a local level, thus it is important to localize SDGs. She said that it is important “to craft contextualized solutions according to local environments and develop enabling structures in the ecosystem, […] not just the natural ecosystem, but the multidimensional ecosystem which involves society, culture, politics, and so on.”
Concluding her presentation, Dr. Cuyegkeng who is also the executive director of the ASEAN University Network on Ecological Education and Culture, summarized how to achieve the SDGs saying: “The strategy is to localize and to empower Indigenous peoples’ local communities.” “SDGs remind us of the need to create a safe, just, and sustainable space for all, and we are guided by meeting social foundations and going with the planetary boundaries or our ecological ceiling,” she added. SDGs, according to Dr. Cuyegkeng, then need to be brought to the level of the needs of the communities which can be achieved by making the members of communities themselves empowered in the process of identifying, analyzing priority SDGs for their community, crafting their solutions, and developing an enabling ecosystem which will support the entire process.
On day 2 held on July 12, 2021, the plenary speaker, Dr. Priscilla Settee of the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, talked about the relationship between SDGs and indigenous studies as a field of academic study. She discussed how indigenous knowledge systems help solve the development crises brought about by capitalism. She pointed out that “indigenous knowledge systems are absolutely essential as we are the unrecognized growers and cultivators of most of the world’s foods.”
The speaker further conveyed that even while communities suffer, indigenous knowledge is still very much alive and has the power and capability to influence and reverse trends of the world. In particular, she mentioned the problem of food insecurity which led to a massive global food sovereignty resurgence. Dr. Settee addressed the virtual conference participants: “it’s incumbent on us […] to understand the importance of international linkages and network, working, teaching, and research to understand the challenges at hand” and emphasized that “the time to act is now.”
In her talk, the professor and director of the Indigenous Peoples Program of the University of Saskatchewan said that at the heart of indigenous sovereignty and self-determination are six principles. “It focuses on development for the people; it values people; it localizes development systems; it puts control locally; it builds knowledge and skills, particularly among our young ones; and, most importantly, it works with nature as we have seen in the Cordillera,” Dr. Settee pointed out.
It is then important to build “economies that matter,” according to Dr. Settee, who also said that the “success of social economies is ensured through the adoption of a shared vision where everyone’s opinions and ideas are given consideration.” In general, success is ensured through cooperation and multisectoral collaboration, according to her. In her conclusion, the advocate of indigenous peoples’ rights, women’s rights, and environmental rights, emphasized that “we are a collective, that we are united by our vision for our equitable future based on indigenous justice, and we are not alone in this struggle. “We are part of an ever-growing body of hope that exists,” Dr. Settee remarked.
Recordings of the previous sessions may be accessed at the ICCS3 website. Join the rest of the ICCS3 virtual sessions on July 19 and 26. For details, visit https://sites.google.com/up.edu.ph/iccs3 and https://www.facebook.com/OfficialUPB. (JL Lazaga/UP Baguio Public Affairs)