In Thailand, more than 40 indigenous peoples’ organizations got together on 9th August 2007 to celebrate for the first time in Thailand, the International Indigenous Peoples Day.
The idea of celebrating the indigenous identity was expanded, and again for the first time, a week long Indigenous Peoples Festival was held in Chiang Mai in September 2007. Mr. Joni Odochao, Chairperson of the Organizing Committee of the festival and a local Karen intellectual, while speaking at the opening session said;
“WE HAVE A DISTINCT WAY OF LIFE, SETTLEMENT AND CULTIVATION – PRACTICES THAT ARE INTRICATELY LINKED WITH NATURE, FORESTS AND WILD LIFE. OUR WAYS OF LIFE IS SUSTAINABLE AND NATURE FRIENDLY AND THESE TRADITIONS AND PRACTICES HAVE BEEN TAUGHT AND PASSED ON FROM ONE GENERATION TO THE NEXT. BUT NOW BECAUSE OF STATE POLICIES AND WAVES OF MODERNIZATION WE ARE STRUGGLING TO PRESERVE AND MAINTAIN OUR TRADITIONAL WAYS OF LIFE. THE OBJECTIVE OF ORGANIZING THIS FESTIVAL IS TO CELEBRATE THE DIVERSITY OF THAI SOCIETY AND SPECIALLY PROMOTE UNDERSTANDING ABOUT THE CULTURE AND WAY OF LIFE OF THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN THAILAND.”
The government delegation present at the festival affirmed the commitment of the Thai State to the standards enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but added that the benefits flowing from the Declaration would be based on the laws and Constitution of Thailand. This statement gives a glimpse of the problems faced by the indigenous peoples in Thailand. It also hides the complexity of the issue – as there is no recognition of ‘indigenous peoples’ in Thailand. This brings us back to the question of definition, who are ‘indigenous peoples’?
The World Bank has given some indicators of identifying indigenous groups such as: a) close attachment to ancestral territories and to the natural resources in these areas; b) self-identification and identification by others as members of a distinct cultural group; c) an indigenous language, often different from the national language; d) presence of customary social and political institutions; and e) primarily subsistence-oriented production.
However there is no word or phrase in Thai vocabulary which captures this understanding of indigenous peoples. The 2 percent of the indigenous or tribal population in Thailand are known through various terms such as Chaokao (Mountainous people), Chaokao Oppayob (Migrant mountainous peoples), Chao-Thai-pukao (Mountainous Thai peoples), Kum-Chat-tipan (Ethnic groups), Chon-kum-noy (Ethnic minorities), Bokkon Bonpun Ti Sung (Highland peoples) or people having entered Thailand illegally.
All these terms which have been coined by the State define the people in relation to their place of living, their place of origin, their ethnicity or their numbers. But none of these terms reflect the understanding that these groups have a close relationship to the forests and natural resources and have a language, culture and way of life which is quite distinct from the national language or culture. Let’s visiting the E-book to learn about their Struggles in Reclaiming Rights in Forest.