Human rights, land, self-determination
Human rights, land, self-determination
FIFTH ANNUAL Cordillera Day in Toronto
By Beatrice S. Paez
More than a 100 people gathered under the banner of strength in unity to honour the departed human rights crusader, Macliing Dulag. The outspoken defender of Igorot self-determination was killed under the Marcos regime, for mobilizing opposition against the World Bank-funded Chico River Dam. An annual commemoration of his leadership and courage was held in Toronto, at the Northminster United Church.
Diverse human rights organizations took part in the festivities, an evening that delivered messages in support of indigenous solidarity, a documentary screening and multiple Cordillera dance and musical performances. Toronto’s Cordillera Day entered its fifth year, and was organized by Binnadang, a member group of Migrante Canada and co-sponsored by the Filipino Christian Fellowship.
The indigenous groups of the Cordillera region have long struggled to protect their native land from “aggressive development” projects, namely mining operations, which threaten their traditional livelihood, change the environmental landscape and militarize their lands.
The search for common ground among Filipino-Canadians, Igorots and Canadians is not hard to find: Canadian mining corporations are involved in resource development and displaced communities leave for countries like Canada in search of opportunities.
“A lot of migrant workers come from the Cordillera region, so we support them,” said Joe Calugay, the Deputy Secretary General of Migrante and a keynote speaker. “The whole reason why a lot of migrant workers come from the Cordillera region, is because of what is happening to their ancestral land. There’s a lot of land grabbing and development, and there are no jobs.”
“We are not opposed to development,” said Vernie Yocogan-Diano, the Executive Director of Cordillera Women’s Education Research Centre (CWEARC), who also headlined the event. But resource development should be carried out with respect for the environment, and must involve the consent of indigenous groups, she added.
Yocogan-Diano urged the audience to mobilize in support of the Cordillera people, and asserted that Filipinos share a common interest in returning to their homeland, and also have a stake in protecting its bountiful resources. “In order for you to have a place to go home to, you will have to join us in struggle to protect our land and resources,” she told the Philippine Reporter in an interview.
The plight of migrant workers has also become intertwined in the pursuit of self-determination and the struggle for an equitable stake in development.
The event also featured a skit staged by the iWworkers, an organization of Filipino live-in caregivers, which depicted the daily routine of a domestic worker. It’s a story that also speaks about the hardships and aspirations of Filipino migrant workers, who long for a time when they can return to a more prosperous nation, Maru Maesa, the Chairperson of iWworkers explained.
In keeping with theme of unity, there were also messages about standing in solidarity with the First Nations people in Canada.
Throughout the evening there were bursts of lively performances to mark the occasion. Youth dancers from the Cordillera provinces represented their hometown in dance and dress; the troupe embellished their heads with beaded crafts and was clothed in their distinguished skirts or tapis.
For Filipino youth Cordillera Day is an occasion to take pride in their heritage and display the cultural diversity of the region.
Two different dances were prepared to represent the Mountain Province and Kalinga.
One of the dances depicts a courtship, the union between two tribes, explained Julie Ann Doligas, one of the organizers of the youth dance group.
“We’re showing people that we’re trying to unite the provinces,” said Syria Felua, who helped coach the young performers and is from the Mountain Province and Kalinga. “Cordillera Day is an opportunity to share one’s culture and to show that each province has its own dance.”
“I wanted to teach people who grew up here the culture from back home,” said Doligas, who represented the Mountain province. “Once you come here you tend to forget where you come from.”