Calls for land, rights protection on Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Local ethnic organisations celebrated the international day with dances, performances and a statement calling on the National League for Democracy-backed government to pass an Ethnic Rights Protection Law, as well as a land-use policy.
“PROTECT our land, protect our rights.”
These words hung behind the stage on August 9 at Yangon’s National Theatre, where the Myanmar Indigenous Peoples/Ethnic Nationalities Network hosted the 22nd International Day of Indigenous Peoples celebration.
The poignant statement hits home here, as many ethnic armed groups have clashed with Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, for decades over land and resource rights. As the National League for Democracy government prepares for the upcoming Panglong Conference on August 31, more than 200 representatives from eight different ethnic minorities gathered in the country’s largest city to show unity and make a statement.
“We all have to know what our rights are,” said Salai Bawi Lian Mang, the managing director of the Chin Human Rights Group. “Without knowing our rights, we can neither protect nor develop our homelands. We must be aware that there are many civil war victims still living in IDP camps.”
Salai Bawi Lian Mang added that many of the ethnic groups are hill tribes located around Myanmar’s borders. He believes these groups are discriminated against and forced to stand by as their traditional literature, culture and living standards slowly disappear. Many ethnic children do not read in their own language, having been forced into Bamar-language schools most of their lives.
“We need more opportunities,” he said.
The celebration included his speech as well as a short dance performance, and allowed for networking between the youth representatives present. Myanmar Indigenous Peoples Network had hosted the last two events, and a spokesperson said more people came this year than in the past. Some travelled for more than two days to attend the event.
Naing Thet Lwin, the ethnic affairs minister, said the important thing for ethnic people is to maintain their individual cultural heritages by contributing to the federalisation process. Change will come, he said, pointing out that Kayin, Mon and Kachin nationalities having begun to use their own languages in school textbooks.
“To save our customs, languages and natural resources, ethnic minorities and, really all people, have to be educated in a good education system,” U Naing Thet Lwin said.
In Myanmar, indigenous peoples is taken to mean ethnic groups that had their own territories before the British colonised Burma. They have their own governing systems, languages and lifestyles, said Mai Thin Yu Mon, a member of Myanmar Indigenous Peoples/Ethnic Nationalities Network.
An official statement from the group urged the NLD government to pass an Ethnic Rights Protection Law as well as a national land use policy. They also called for health education and improved health facilities, as well as a reformed education system that might accurately reflect Myanmar’s immense cultural diversity.
Youth from Kayin, Chin, Mon, Shan, Kachin, Rakhine and Nagaland attended the ceremony and performed traditional dances.
Karen women attend the Mai Ja Yang ethnic summit in Kachin State on July 30.
An indigenous dance performance graced the stage after the speakers at the National Theatre on August 9.
Attendees of the event observed speeches and networked among each other.