Pass it on! New Publication On Indigenous Ways to Educate Children and Youth

Photo credits: 3 Toda Women by Mounthees Kuttan, Bikkapthy Mund, 2020 (Community Fellow Cultural Documentation – Keystone Foundation India).

“In our language, we don’t have the word nature, peace or love. Or freedom or health. Or fidelity or loyalty. Because that is me. I am peace, I am a plant, I am freedom. That’s who I am. I am all those forms…”

Alí Garcia Segura (Bribri Peoples) – La Lengua Bribri

August 9, 2022 – Today it is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. To celebrate this important day, we are very pleased to launch the first publication of the Indigenous-led Education Network (the ILED Network): Pass it on! Stories of Indigenous-Led Education from the Grassroots

In this publication, we share the various ways Indigenous communities from tropical forests in Suriname, India, Thailand, Uganda, Kenya and Costa Rica, have developed their own ways to educate their children and youth. Their stories also reveal the many issues and challenges around education and language loss faced by Indigenous peoples worldwide.

A Global Movement to Support Indigenous Languages

The United Nations General Assembly declared the period of 2022-2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. The aim of this decade is to protect, support, revitalise and promote Indigenous languages.

By creating a joint global movement, the goal of this decade is to put a halt to the gradual decline of Indigenous languages globally.

The Rutu Foundation is part of this global movement, as a fervent supporter of mother tongue education and cultural and linguistic diversity in education. We do this as part of the ILED Network, which supports Indigenous speakers with passing on their languages, knowledge and cultures to the next generation.

Here you can read the full publication (versión en Español aquí).

What is the ILED Network?

The ILED Network is a global, collaborative network of organizations in support of Indigenous-led education. Our aim is to centre Indigenous grassroots initiatives that uphold, preserve and pass on Indigenous cultures, languages, ways of life and knowledge systems to Indigenous youth. We have a wide geographical reach, with members in India, Kenya, the Philippines, Thailand, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Uganda, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Indigenous-led education (ILED) initiatives and programs are based on communities’ own priorities, ways of learning and empowering youth. These are shown to be the most effective way to boost Indigenous resilience and self-determination. Women especially play a crucial role as knowledge holders and teachers.

Repression of Indigenous Languages and Cultures

As a result of the discrimination and repression experienced by Indigenous peoples – and especially women – around the world, the knowledge, culture and way of life of Indigenous communities receive insufficient attention from policymakers.

This can lead, for example, to Indigenous communities being driven from their land by the government to ‘protect’ the environment, as happened to the Sengwer community in Kenya.

“The Sengwer should not be seen as a threat to the natural environment, but as its protectors”, says Milka Chepkorir, a young female leader of the Sengwer and regional coordinator for the African members of the ILED Network. “Our language and culture contains a lot of knowledge on how to treat the natural environment. That knowledge must not be lost.”

Also in Formal Education

This repression of Indigenous cultures and knowledge is also visible in formal education. Not only is there insufficient attention to Indigenous languages and knowledge transfer, but Indigenous children are sometimes banned from speaking their own language at school.

That is why Indigenous-led education initiatives are crucial. In Kenya, for example, various Sengwer villages have set up their own cultural centres and make educational videoclips in which they not only pass on their own language and cultural customs, but also knowledge of trees, plants and restoration of the natural environment.

Indigenous Knowledge Relevant in Tackling Climate Crisis

Indigenous knowledge can be of great value in tackling the current climate and biodiversity crises. Indigenous peoples manage more than 500 million hectares of tropical forest worldwide. Research has shown that there is significantly less deforestation in areas managed by Indigenous peoples. This is why international organisations like the IPCC and the FAO now recognise the importance of Indigenous peoples in the fight against climate change and land degradation.

Everything starts with Education

Pass it on! Stories of Indigenous-Led Education from the Grassroots“, the new report published by the ILED Network, clearly shows that everything starts with education. “If Indigenous children can learn about their language, culture and traditional knowledge and share them rather than feeling ashamed of them, it will help them to stand up more strongly for their rights and protect their living environments in the future”, says Ellen-Rose Kambel, director of the Rutu Foundation, a member organisation of the ILED Network.

“Indigenous communities around the world are showing that they have both the knowledge and the will to take care of their living environments”, says Paul Wolvekamp, policy officer at Both ENDS, which is also a member of the ILED Network. “Instead of forcing them into a Western-style education system, we should be learning from them”. That is also the value of the ILED Network, which was partly set up by Indigenous organisations. Only with a joint effort and the transfer of traditional Indigenous knowledge founded on the needs and perspective of Indigenous communities can we seriously address the threats of climate change and decreasing biodiversity.

For more information about the ILED Network visit the webpage.

Download the new publication. Versión en Español aquí

For teachers:
Earlier this year, the Rutu Foundation shared a Toolkit for Teachers on Indigenous Languages offering various ways to incorporate Indigenous languages and cultures in the classroom. This new ILED publication is another valuable resource on this topic.

Press Release: Indigenous Knowledge and Languages Crucial in the Fight Against Climate Change