The Ogiek community of Mt.Elgon will join other indigenous communities around the world in marking world indigenous day on 9th August 2023 at Laboot, Chepkitale. The day is observed to recognize and honour indigenous communities, their cultures, traditions and contributions to environmental conservation in Mt.Elgon forest. The theme of this year is Indigenous Youth as Agents of Change for Self-determination.
Indigenous communities have played a vital role in our world. Their most notable contribution is that they nurture 80% of the world’s cultural and biological diversity while occupying 20% of the world’s land surface. The question that most people may ask is what is their way of life? How do they conserve their cultures and traditions? What drives them and why do they do this?
The Ogiek community of Mt.Elgon have decided to mark the day by showcasing their culture and teaching the young generation on the Ogiek way of life. It will be attended by local community members, county officials from the neighbouring counties of Bungoma and Trans Nzoia, officials from government departments and other well-wishers. The day is planned and facilitated by Chepkitale Indigenous People Development Project (CIPDP). It was first observed by the community in 2019 but has not been held since then due to COVID-19.
The focus of this year is on youths as agents of change. Mzee Andrew Kitelo, a community elder, wishes many youths to attend saying, “It will be an important day for us to relearn and teach what our forefathers taught us. We want to the youth to attend in large numbers so that we share with them traditional knowledge which is not taught in schools.” He fears that indigenous knowledge may be lost if the youth are not actively involved in culture preservation. “One day we will not be here and it’s the youths who will pass it to our grandchildren”, He added. Documentation and publication of traditional knowledge has been an ongoing activity in the community because of the transformative pathways project (by CIPDP) which supports the community to scale up conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. So far, 15 youths have been engaged to document indigenous knowledge which will later be published.
The Ogiek community is dedicated to nurturing the next generation in the understanding of their culture and traditions. Moses Ndiema, a community elder, highlights the importance of teaching boys about clans and cattle tagging, a practice that aids in identifying livestock owners and mitigating theft. Likewise, Janet Chemtai who is the chairlady of Chepkitale Women Council wishes girls to be taught gender roles “World indigenous day is an opportunity for us to teach girls about our ideal way of life. Some women among us do not know about our culture because they have never been taught and so it is an opportunity for them too”, she said, adding “I doubt if girls nowadays know how to weave yiela, leketyet or pempet. We will teach them on that day”.
Chepkitale Indigenous People Development Project have been carrying out a project on mapping where 40 youths have been directly engaged. “I will request for a chance to showcase how intergenerational transfer of knowledge is useful to the continuity of a community’s land rights and environmental rights; can be summarized using maps which were made by youths in consultation with the elders of the community”, Said Phoebe Ndiema who is the project officer.
The themes of this year’s world indigenous day are:
Indigenous youth as agents of change for self-determination
Indigenous youth play a vital role in shaping their own destiny and the world’s future. Despite facing challenges due to modern society’s changes, they are stepping up as change-makers. By blending traditional wisdom with modern technology, they are finding solutions for pressing global issues like climate change and promoting peace. Their active participation in international efforts is essential for achieving self-determination, upholding human rights, fostering co-existence and promoting equality.
Climate action and the green transition
Indigenous youths’ ways of life are changing due to societal shifts, inappropriate education systems and stereotypes in communication technologies. However, they are taking a stand globally in climate action. They present unique solutions to climate change issues; especially where green technologies harm their lands and rights. Their perspective is crucial in decision-making for climate action and sustainable resource management.
Mobilizing for Justice
Discrimination profoundly impacts Indigenous youth; leading to lower self-esteem, spiritual loss, language erosion and a disconnection from their cultural roots. They often encounter numerous barriers and cultural dilemmas that push them to adopt foreign identities to escape racism. Despite these challenges, some Indigenous youth are actively revitalizing their cultural identities through participation in organizations, both locally and globally. They use online platforms to mobilize for societal change, showcasing their cultures and raising awareness about Indigenous issues. By sharing their stories and building solidarity, they advocate for justice and a better future.
Identity holds immense importance for Indigenous youth; being closely tied to their land, language, traditions, family and community. The intergenerational exchange between youth and elders plays a vital role in preserving Indigenous cultures and knowledge. Elders, as the keepers of wisdom, pass down traditional and scientific knowledge, emphasizing the significance of family, community and nature. This connection between generations nurtures Indigenous Peoples’ well-being, ensuring the transfer of knowledge and fostering strong bonds. With their grandparents’ teachings, Indigenous youth have a wealth of resources and expertise to become future custodians of the planet.
Read the concept note here.
As we celebrate this auspicious day, let us recognize and appreciate the invaluable contributions of indigenous communities worldwide in safeguarding our planet’s biodiversity and cultural tapestry. Come and mark the day with us. The event will be live on our YouTube channel – Chepkitale Voices.