Working with the Indigenous People’s Networks
The majority of my work here is with various Indigenous groups, including the Intermountain People’s Education and Culture – Thailand (“IMPECT”), an NGO with membership of 10 Indigenous Tribes; the Lisu Indigenous Network (“LIN”), an association of Lisu Leaders in Thailand, Miramar and China, growing into a more formal structure; and the Lisu Women’s Network, both in the village of Doi Chang and in Chiang Mai. My experiences working with the indigenous people has been both eye-opening and rewarding, with a need to be very flexible in both planning for presentations, who will be in attendance, and where the discussions might go. All the Indigenous groups are facing the same issues and are struggling to figure out how to both keep their identities which are based on age-old cultures and traditions and meet the demands of the world they now find themselves in and their children who view life through the lens of TV and the internet – even in the most remote villages. This is not unlike the struggles our own Indigenous peoples have faced over the past 40-50 years, with varying degrees of success. I have been fortunate to be able to share the stories of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and how long it has taken for them to work both toward economic security through an emphasis on education, while at the same time re-introducing and emphasizing their cultural heritage to their children as a source of strength. At the same time, I have been able to lead workshops on business planning, marketing and project development at the community level. There are two projects that I believe may further develop after I leave that I am hopeful for. One being a cultural heritage project to engage the elders, who as a whole feel both left out of this fast moving evolution in their communities, in a both determining what are the stories of their traditions that should be preserved and working with school children to record and write the stories. Very few of the elders read or write; some may speak both Lisu and Thai; so it is the oral histories that must be taken. At the same time, the children could both get a better understanding of their past, and use the tools of technology and education to transcribe and preserve the stories. Another possible project is to form a community coalition with the University of Chang Rai’s culinary arts center; the District Government’s Community Outreach Programs and the Doi Chang Women’s Network to establish a community kitchen where local foods may be produced for sale while teaching the women how to properly clean and preserve food items (whether for sale or in their homes); what regulations govern food for resale and how to develop products from locally grown crops that have both a consistent taste and texture. This project has the potential to both provide future incomes to the network participants; to encourage them to leverage their knowledge into other products, including crafts, and how to reach markets beyond the street markets which now are the most commonly used outlets.
While attending meetings with IMPECT and the LIN groups have been a little more structured and formal, my attendance there (March 11, 12 and 13) has been as much to learn and have individual conversations on the issues as to make presentations. I will have 4 hour workshops with both of these groups, based on these earlier discussions, on the 26th and 27th of March before leaving Thailand. In these meetings, we will be discussing tools and resources that might be used in the networks to develop some of the goals they have established, such as cooperative models that include farmer networks between the 3 countries and “Lisu” branded marketing cooperatives; Eco and cultural tourism opportunities; culture and language preservation; how they identify possible career opportunities for their children to assure they maintain leadership and management of Indigenous-owned businesses. The attached photos include my speaking to the IMPECT Membership Meeting; at the opening of the LIN meeting with some of the members of the Chinese Delegation; combining a business development and soap-making class with the Doi Chang women’s network; and conducting a business planning class with the Abeno Coffee Company.