world council of churches

The Chaing Mai Affirmation of Indigenous Peoples

We are Indigenous Peoples and call ourselves Aymara, Igorot, Ainu, Lahu, Yau, Akha, Taiyah, Karen, Dalit, Adivasi, Limbu, Manangey, Jumma, Kadazan, Rote, Chin, Ibanag, Australian Aborigines of Meriam and Torres Straits Islander, Paiwan, Pazeh, and Naga.

We are Indigenous Peoples proud of our heritage and traditions and systems. We are peoples with dignity and rights, with integrity and humanity, and determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to generations after us such heritage, traditions and systems.

Our interaction together as Indigenous Peoples, at a multifaith meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1-5 October 2000, have made us realize that we can affirm the rights and dignity, the integrity and humanity, and the spiritual sacredness of each one of us.

We are Indigenous Peoples grouped -- together and in Diaspora -- into nations and communities around the world with a memory of colonialism and a continuing experience of plunder, assimilation and discrimination, domination and marginalisation, of oppression and exploitation.

The different countries from where we come are nation-states whose controlling paradigm of governance is national sovereignty. Our indigenous nations continue to exist in the margins of the nation-state. Our marginalisation deprives us of creative and effective participation in the national decision-making processes.

We are gathered at a time in history, when globalisation, homogenizing the world’s cultures and traditions, is threatening the mosaic of our peoples and cultures. As globalisation is increasingly integrating the world’s economies into one single market, our subsistence economies and our ecologically sustainable means of agriculture and trading are gradually destroyed.

The state continues to dominate our identities and ignore our traditional and communal governance systems. Militarisation rages across our villages killing many of our peoples, scorching much of Mother Earth.

Indigenous women and children share a greater burden in the marginalisation and exploitation of Indigenous Peoples. Their participation in society is doubly subordinated to systems of hierarchy, present in the dominant cultures in which they find themselves, as well as in some of our own indigenous communities.

We are peoples of diverse religions and spiritualities. Our sense of and longing for the sacred -- in belief, in reverence, and in our relations -- are varied, multiple, and plural. The sacred is about us but is also beyond us. Our concrete life together as peoples and the entire cosmos continue to reveal what the sacred is.

We are discovering that we are united in more ways than we can imagine. Living together and experiencing each other continues to reveal how we can evolve harmony and live in peace with each other. Our common affirmation of the land as sacred mediates our diversity, plurality and multiplicity. The land embraces us and encompasses our identity and belonging to each and all in the natural and created order.

Our lives are nurtured by the land -- our Mother Earth -- whose bounty is for all the peoples of the world without regard to race, religion, creed, ethnicity, class or gender. Land is the continuity between our collective memory of our ancestors and our deep longing for survival now and in the future. We will not be alienated from and be strangers to our ancestral homelands. Our common and painful experience of colonialism has made us aware of the importance of our indigenous resources and ancestral domains. We are affirming human rights, sustainable development, justice and peace, as common aspirations and destiny of all of us.

Indigenous peoples see the whole cosmos as one integrated whole. Everything in the created and natural order is essential and critical to the existence and survival of the other. Indigenous peoples are proud to share this holistic cosmology with a world, which seems to be fragmenting lives and atomising societies.

We believe in the fundamental dignity of every living being. Our affirmation of human rights demands from us the respect for people of other religious traditions and convictions. Religious rights are protected only when the variety of expressions and non-expressions are all protected.

We told stories and myths about our peoples, we exchanged sacred symbols, sang our songs, performed rites and rituals. Our encounter revealed many commonalities about our religious traditions and spiritualities. We commit ourselves to nurture these together.

Interfaith and interreligious dialogue and interaction brought us closer to each other. While we are diverse peoples, nations and cultures, we realized that it is only in dialogue and interaction with each other that we can meaningfully understand each other.

It has been made clear from our consultation that Indigenous Peoples live at the same time with an ancestral heritage and in participation in the various dominant religions today. We are rooted in the spiritual traditions of our people. Our life can only be interpreted in what we have inherited from our ancestors and our lands. At the same time, we are in different ways part of the religious and cultural traditions of various dominant world religions. Some of us want to affirm this bond as something positive and enriching, some of us see this bond as ambiguous and oppressive for our life and identity as indigenous people.

We have brought forth that which is dear to us in the spiritualities of our people. We have been able to do so, because we trusted each other and were not afraid to share that which is so important to us as Indigenous Peoples. This sharing has sometimes made clear the need for dialogue between and among Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Indigenous Peoples to address our particular concerns and our claim to keep and nurture our traditional spiritualities in the midst of the dominant religions in which we live.

We are Indigenous Peoples in dialogue together, because we are peoples who are striving for a more just, more peaceful, more sustainable world. Our aspirations are inscribed in our individual lives and the witness each of us makes in our communities.

Together we would like to affirm:

  1. That interfaith and interreligious dialogues among indigenous peoples of varied religious traditions and beliefs be continued and coordinated.

  2. That in order to respect indigenous religions and beliefs, proselytism and coercive mission should cease.

  3. That our spiritualities, indigenous systems and intellectual and traditional knowledge be respected and recognised and that the central place and meaning of the land in the lives of indigenous peoples be honoured.

  4. That religious and international bodies like the United Nations take measures for indigenous communities who are displaced from their lands.

  5. That the aspirations of Indigenous Peoples for self-determination are respected and recognised.

  6. That the concept of the nation-state as well as the theory and practice of national sovereignty be rethought, allowing for plurality and diversity in the peoples that make up each nation-state.

  7. That Indigenous Peoples be mobilized to participate in international standard setting about themselves and their concerns, and that parties to these standards fulfil their pledges and obligations.

  8. That research and studies to deepen our indigenous spiritualities be conducted.

  9. That efforts of Indigenous Peoples be supported at the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies, the Commission on Human Rights, Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights if Indigenous Peoples, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, and the establishment within the United Nations of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.
Statement from a multifaith consultation on Indigenous spirituality, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1-6 October, 2000. The consultation was a cooperation between the team on Interreligious Relations and the Indigenous Peoples’ Programme.

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