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.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - NYEIN EI EI HTWE nyeineieiehtwe@mm­times.com

“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.

Photo: Zarni Phyo PHOTO: ZARNI PHYO

Karen women at­tend the Mai Ja Yang eth­nic sum­mit in Kachin State on July 30.

Photos: Thiri Lu

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.

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