Native attires, unusual and unique languages, colorful garments, important rituals, spiritual beliefs, utilizing special economic, social, and political systems, agriculture, and many more; these are some of the spectacular things our fellow Filipino indigenous communities are known for. The month of October is especially dedicated to honor them. After all, their contribution to the country is one that is vital to the nation’s identity and one that should not go unnoticed.
The indigenous peoples in the country are found scattered throughout Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao with a population of around 14 to 17 million and belonging to 133 Indigenous Peoples (IPs) groups. As a minority group, they are lesser in number and they share characteristics and practices that are unique to them.
Unfortunately, they found themselves in a disadvantaged position in society because of these differences. They experience undue oppression, with some even coming from the government. While there are laws that are supposed to protect them, it seems that it is hardly enough.
Some had their territories forcibly taken without their free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC), an all-too-important principle or right in the lives of the indigenous people. In effect, their main source of income, agriculture, was likewise greatly affected.
Indigenous peoples tend to have no voice when it comes to issues that directly affect them because of the language barrier and the lack of support from the government. They are even forced to adapt to a new culture and set aside their own beliefs in order to fit in. The sad reality of it all is that their differences with what is “standard” made them suffer inhumane acts.
This year’s National Indigenous People’s Month will be celebrated along with the 23rd anniversary of the passing of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997. With the theme of “Correcting Historical Injustices for Indigenous People’s Rights and Welfare”, the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) groups, and their partners will be holding programs and activities that tackle, among others, the historical injustices they have suffered, the landmark legislation that is IPRA, and the ongoing challenges that the indigenous peoples continue to face.
For the whole of October, the indigenous people will have the opportunity to showcase their culture, history, and traditions that have long been passed down from generation to generation. It will also be a chance to be educated about indigenous people with respect to their way of living, their rights, and their ancestral lands, to name a few.
The focus is twofold—on the indigenous peoples themselves and on the dissemination of information about important matters concerning indigenous peoples. The goal to spread awareness about them will be much closer and will result in strengthening their rights, acknowledging and acting on their problems, and a general appreciation of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.
While they may have unique practices and beliefs unfamiliar to us, there is still a need to protect their rights in the same way that we should learn to appreciate the cultural differences because, in reality, they are the same as us: Filipinos.
They deserve equal rights and the continued recognition of their own indigenous rights from society and more so from the Philippine government. Them being lesser in population does not mean, in any way, that they deserve any less respect. Like everyone, they are supposed to be seen, and they are supposed to be heard.
May the month of October remind us of the indigenous peoples as much as other more known October festivities do.