Blog Post by Yumi Sera, Operations Director of Disability Rights Fund
“The best place for a meeting may be under a tree. But people, like trees, must have strong roots. Remember that some of the roots are holding hands underground.” This was one of the many wise sayings that was voiced at a roundtable offered by the Christensen Fund, Disability Rights Fund, and Grassroots International.
The panel speakers passionately talked about finding home-grown solutions to their own struggles and the need to be more conscious about including indigenous women and indigenous persons with disabilities in local, regional, and global alliances. “Although we may be seen as different and thus discriminated against and stigmatized, diversity is a strength. We, as Indigenous Peoples, embrace the importance of spirituality – the respect and sacredness of Mother Earth. “
The IFIP audience explored models of reciprocal alliances within the Indigenous Peoples movement, within larger social justice and grassroots movements, and with research and advocacy organizations in order to strengthen work based on authentic inclusion and participation of diverse groups of Indigenous Peoples, including women and persons with disabilities. We heard from Phrang Roy, from the Khasi matrilineal hill tribe of Meghalaya in India and the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty; Dolores Sales, from the Huehuetenango, part of the Mayan Mam people of Guatemala and of La Via Campesina and The National Coordination of Indigenous Peoples and Campesino; Olga Montufar Contreras, from the Nahuati Peoples and of Fundacion Paso a Paso; and Setareki S. Macanawai, from Fiji and the Pacific Disability Forum.
The speakers shared their lessons about forming alliances and partnerships:
- Allies may need to be educated about a rights-based approach and encouraged to practice what they preach about inclusion. Building these alliances and partnerships is about taking risks. Finding common ground will take time and may not be comfortable at the beginning.
- Empowering the powerless is still one of the most important pathways to transformational change and, as such, should never be too far from everyone’s minds. Many of the international structures — overcome by their own bureaucracies — have exactly the opposite intention and empower the powerful through their own political systems.
Echoing a slogan from the international disability rights movement, Diana Samarasan concluded, “nothing about us without us and nothing gained without the rest.”