Indigenous People in Climate Change- when tradition meets modern life

Indigenous People in Climate Change- when tradition meets modern life

A visit to the Asia Indigenous People Pact (AIPP) booth in Green Zone led me to a series of immense thoughts on indigenous people in climate change. We were there to have a short Sumazau Dance practice with Winnie, a representative from JOAS. The dance performance was for Asia Day on the next day. JOAS stands for Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia, translated in English as The Indigenous People Network of Malaysia.

Compare to the indigenous people (IP) that I interacted with previously in Krau, Pahang; Winnie is different, as she has much more exposure to the modern world. She was such a pleasant lady, teaching us the Sumazau dance with such patience and joyfulness. After a few conversations and interactions with her, I came to realised that there is always one common in trait in all IP deep in their heart- which is their connection to the nature and their purest form of attitude towards life.


IP are well known for their close to nature lifestyle. In climate change perspective, they are mostly one of the most vulnerable marginalised group. As most of them stays in remote areas- either in the forest, by the forest edge or near the forest, some even in the mountainous region; their lives are directly influenced by any climatic changes within the region.

Why? Well, for one, most IP do not get food from supermarkets or even wet markets. They gatherof plants, herbs and fruits, they fish, they hunt, they do some small scale planting, all for consumption and maybe for a bit of bartering or source of income. In the face of climate change, the most sensitive species will be most severely influenced, there those delicate fungi are gone, here some baby squirrels could not survive and there some beetles act all funny. You might think meh, two or three species were disturbed, so what? The forests have so much more but wait, do you not know that all species interact and rely on one another? They form a tightly knitted community and ecosystem where all species are either directly or indirectly related to each other. Changes in environment might perish a few species and the shake the ground of many other species. Without food, this might force the IP to shift away from their own villages as well as changing their lifestyle, which can be a threat to their cultures and social identities. Instability of food source, low ability to adapt changes and oppressed rights made them extremely vulnerable.

Researchers believe that some of the IP possess the traditional knowledge deemed essential to understand about our surrounding environment, which would be crucial to produce a comprehensive adaptive method that combines traditional knowledge with modern science. In the latest Paris Agreement, IP was recognized and acknowledged in the texts but it is under the non-legally binding preamble which shows no protection to this group of marginalized group which could be a key information provider in combating climate change.

I then recalled and flashed back all IP related events that I attended throughout COP21. From the side events in blue zone, country’s pavilions till the Global Landscape Forum; it seems that IP from the American continent (Canada, USA, Amazon and Brazil) were much more vocal and well represented in occasions like this. Asia’s IP are relatively quiet from my observation, especially those from South East Asia region.

I wonder was it because of lower media coverage? Or the lack of platforms to voice up?

I was buried in a thick hard clump of frustration thoughts (on the unjust treatment most IP had to bear) only to be levitated on Asia Day itself. The pavilions are filled with IP from numerous Asian regions showcasing  their traditional cultural performances. These nice people even prepared their traditional dishes as refreshment. I was deeply touched by all the efforts done by them. They traveled so far away from their hometown to Paris to  be part of this global event, all the while displaying good spirits of never stop fighting for their tribes. True, they might not have the capacity to understand nor participate in the negotiations, but at least they do whatever they could to show their eagerness in wanting  to be heard and they are concerned about global issues. With that said, I strongly believe that they deserve much more capacity building aids from their respective governments and international organisations.

Written by: Emily
Edited by: Wanji


Performing at Asia Cultural Night during Asia Day at COP21

Performing at Asia Cultural Night during Asia Day at COP21

13rd article picture 2During Promulgation Ceremony of the Malaysian Youth Statement on Climate Change towards COP21, I met Winnie from Jaringan Orang Asli SeMalaysia (JOAS) or The Indigenous Peoples Network of Malaysia. JOAS is the umbrella network for 21 community-based non-governmental organisations that have indigenous peoples’ issues as the focus. As the focal point for indigenous rights and advocacy in Malaysia, JOAS provides the indigenous communities with representation not just nationally, but regionally and internationally as well.

From chatting with her, I found out that she will be going to COP21 too, as a representative of JOAS. Hence, we stay connected via whatsapp prior to the trip so that my team and I could contact her or we could take care of each other in Paris in case of any emergency. After all, there is no harm in making more friends.

Before we depart to Paris, she contacted me for assistance in helping her in her Sumazau Dance performance during Asia Day on 9 December 2015 (Wednesday). Sumazau dance is a popular traditional folk dance of the Kadazan Dusun in Sabah. It is often performed during the harvest festival celebration every May. I cannot find a reason why I should reject her offer, so I informed the team and they agreed to help out too. Deep in my heart, I was so excited because this will be my first ever dance performance and it will held at Paris.

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During COP21, Emily and I met her on Monday (the same week as Asia Day) to learn the dance at Indigenous People Pavilion located in the Climate Generation Spaces (Green Zone) in Le Bourget. For your information, green zone is one of the officiate zone by COP21 that open to both public and accredited persons. It provides a huge space for debates, knowledge-sharing, discussions and conviviality. The IP pavilion will be focusing on indigenous people from Asia to showcase their cultures, ways of life and knowledge that provide solutions to climate change.

While learning the dance, Winnie explained to me that the dance was inspired by eagle flying patterns, symbolising freedom. For a first timer like me, the dance was not as hard as I expected as some of the moves are repetitive.

Asia Day was held on Wednesday with a variety of programme from morning till evening. Winnie was one the speakers for the panel discussion on Indigenous Peoples’ Contribution to Climate Change. She shared successful environmentally- friendly initiatives such as micro-hydro and community-led fisheries management system. The dance was arranged at the end of the programme which is “Asia Reception and Cultural Night”. Normally when I hear about cultural night, my first thought is that I can try food from different regions. My dream did come true and I will explain in a while.

My team and I arrived in the late afternoon for rehearsal. We met a youth delegate from Taiwan when we were walking from Blue Zone and he joined us for the dance performance as well. *applause*. Since the team is completed now, a clearer picture of the dance move can be seen. Still, practices makes perfect. After a few round of rehearsals, we were confident that we will be able to deliver the dance smoothly.

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The cultural night was packed with a few traditional dance performances by indigenous people in Asia regions such as Mongolia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bhutan. Each of the performance was unique and impressive. Our performance, the Sumazau Dance is arranged at the closing of the event. As a result, everyone, including the audiences and other indigenous people started to dance together with us. At first, I was very nervous but after a while I felt nothing but joy. That moment had indeed became one of my  emotional anchors from now on.

As mentioned above, cultural night is normally linked with food. Yeap, traditional food from different Asian regions were served after the performances ended. To name a few, there were momo (dumplings) from Nepal, Hivana (Fish salad) from Malaysia, Salad Tea Leaves from Myanmar and Dim Sum. All of them taste really delicious. That made me felt a sudden pang of homesickness. I miss char kuey tiao, satay, laksa and bak kut teh back in Malaysia.

After the meal, we headed back to Blue Zone to attend Comite de Paris.

Written by: Thomas Lai
Edited by: Merryn Choong