20061031

 
PURPOSE

Indigenous Peoples Resource Bank is a new web-based resource that was created in September 2006 to: 1) Promote public access to information about indigenous peoples of the Congo Basin; 2) Support wider awareness of the factors that are driving displacement of indigenous peoples from their traditional lands; and 3) Enhance the knowledge and capacity of those actors that seek to address the root causes of this silent crisis in the Congo Basin. The IPRB is the result of private, independent research and represents no particular interest other than a normal human desire to address an injustice.

MESSAGE TO ADVOCATES AND PRACTIONERS IN THE FIELD

With over 500 references currently available, the IPRB represents the largest single collection of resources specfically dedicated to indigenous peoples of Central-West Africa available on the web today. However, it is only a starting point. The larger hope is that by extending the application of blogs as strategic information-sharing and coordination tools, IPRB will eventually become only one of many publically available resources in a wider network of independent blogs by human rights activists, humanitarian actors, responsible conservation NGOs, anthroplogists, researchers, journalists, concerned donors and private individuals.

If we are to find peaceful, appropriate and transparent solutions to the array of threats that jeapordize the survival of this acutely vulnerable population, it will mean searching beyond the doors of our own houses, developing cooperative rather than competitive program approaches and moving beyond myopic short-term 'projects' to coherent, multi-disciplinary approaches that put communities squarely at the heart of our efforts. If advocates and humanitarian actors are to avoid repeating the same mistakes, we must first create an environment that is accessible to indigenous peoples so that their right of self-determination is supported rather than unwittingly undermined. While advocates may be motivated by the best intentions, advocacy is counter-productive when the voices of third parties operate as a substitute for the genuine desires, aspirations and values of community members who must be acknowledged as the best arbiters of their own best interests.

MESSAGE TO PLANNERS AND POLICY MAKERS

The Context section is specifically developed for those concerned with policy and planning at the regional and/or national level and highlights five dominant themes that impact indigenous peoples of the Congo Basin: i. displacement and acute vulnerability; ii. foreign policy; iii. law and the control of natural resources; iv. economic development in the Congo Basin and regional political-economy; v. humanitarian considerations. Within each theme, selected references are provided to highlight key issues and arranged within the collection to provide the user the sense of their relevance in the wider discourse that concerns indigenous peoples.

As an information tool, the development of IPRB represents an alternative approach to the standard comissioned expert report and recommendations. The decision to channel information via a public blog reflects a concern about process, transparency and public access to information. The way information is currently disseminated is extraordinarily opaque. Assuming an indigenous person in the Republic of Congo is curious about the process and rationale behind the policies and plans that impacts their lives, how would they find that information? Policy decisions are based on information, but that information is rarely made available to the people it ultimately concerns. We write much about indigenous peoples, but rarely do we share our thoughts or make our reports accessible to them. Information is power and for that reason we must be conscious of the imperative to share.

In addition to a concern about making information available to those curious enough to seek it out, another concern the IPRB seeks to address is resource efficiency. At the outset of this research project, it became immediately evident the problem is not an absense of information, but the way it is accessed and utilized. Frankly, the last thing the world needed was another high level report produced at the cost of some $10-$20K that is circulated only at the top levels before finding its way to a lost dusty archive. Thus, another aim of the IPRB is to encourage actors to make better use of what already exists. To facilitate a higher use of information resources, IPRB identifies the most relevant reports that have been generated by the best minds on the subject of indigenous peoples of the Congo Basin. Reports need to be more than a justification of how we spend our time - the good ones should be consolidated, widely circulated, discussed and put to active use.

True, people need jobs and the cadre of expert report writers who earn their living by generating desk studies might differ. However, assuming resources are limited, common sense suggests that instead of prioritizing derivative secondary resource summaries -or- highly specialized field reports about the study of cassava root carbohydrate values and consumption among a group of 624 pygmies in village X, or the aspiration of the sound "gh" and tonal variations between pygmy groups A and B, how about a regional census to find out very basic things: How many indigenous peoples are there? Where do they live? How are they doing? How do changes in natural resource extraction impact survival strategies? Are indigenous peoples being displaced by the exponential expansion of lands allocated for conservation and industrial logging? If so, at what rate is displacement occuring?

Time and again, international agencies, NGOs and experts reiterate that baseline data concerning indigenous peoples in the Congo Basin does not exist. The IPRB is a collection of over 500 existing resources that document soaring morbidity and mortality rates in displaced communities (as high as 69%), field reports of human rights organizations that document a rape a week by police in some villages, repeated beatings and village raids by eco-guards in conservation areas under the management of conservation NGOs by virtue of USAID taxpayer and private donor funds, the practice of indentured servitude and discrimnation so pervasive that almost no one blinks an eye.

The IPRB is not a report, but an assemblage of over 500 existing documents and resources that show clearly why policy makers and planners may wish to consider that now is the time for a regional census, health survey and displacement cartography that may reveal a humanitarian crisis in progress. While strategic ignorance makes sense where basic census and survey data touches politically sensitive ground, the IPRB seeks to foster accountability for the action - and the consequences of inaction - of the international humanitarian community concerning this acutely vulnerable population.

MESSAGE TO PRIVATE DONORS, GRASS ROOTS ACTIVISTS AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO LEARN MORE

For people who just want to learn more about indigenous peoples in the Congo Basin, the Context section will provide insights and awareness of the complexity of the challenges that threaten the very existence of indigenous peoples and their traditional way of life.

Caveat: If you conceive of pygmies as free-spirits living in small happy bands in a vast and remote jungle in the belief that theirs is a world apart - and if you are at peace with that image - you might want to give the Context section a miss. However, should you welcome a challenge, this section of the IPRB site is fascinating in terms of the spectrum of issues presented: politics, ethnicity, economics, transnational companies, medicine, land tenure, international finance, anthropology, forest reform, human rights, bio-technology, aid and development, industrial logging, private banking, normative and prescriptive legal frameworks, blood timber, conservation, corruption, love, hate, war and peace, plus full-color illustrations of seven deadly sins - its all there. And (sadly) its all relevant. Hours of intellectual engagement await. Do bear in mind that as the mind whirls, chews and connects the dots, you may experience a paralell engagement of the heart. This particular organ may be taxed according to how much information is consumed - your mileage may vary.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Someone once observed that "the fate of the forests are detetermined in the city". In the case of traditional forest-centered peoples, the deals and decisions made in Beijing, Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington have a direct impact on their survival strategies, coping mechnisms and social fabric. One of the more difficult things to reconcile is how indigenous peoples' ties to their traditional lands represents a way of being that is both extraordinarily durable when viewed from the perspective of history and painfully fragile in light of a global economy where something as simple as parquet flooring means different things: a desireable floor covering for people of the West, a profitable venture for people of the East, a viable economic development stategy for people in high-back leather chairs, the hope of a job and income for people of a dominant ethnic group, a banner for massive conservation interventions, a rationale for foreign intervention. But what does parquet flooring mean for peoples of the forest of the Congo Basin? Who knows. Maybe one day someone might ask them, yet the emerging pattern of migration and displacement suggest that parquet flooring and the exploitation/conservation of forest resources could mean a permanent camp in the periphery of a dump site.

These days, the meaning of parquet flooring conjures up a dynamic of mind-boggling complexity while at the same time illuminates the difference between the greatest ape and its cousins: Whether something is delightfully cheap or prohibitively dear turns on what is valued.

But there's more to IPRB than beating the tired tam-tam of globalization. Here you'll find a wealth of academic research, scholarly articles, absolute rubbish, transcripts from hallowed halls of power, shameless pandering and narratives from the field. Can't say there is no bias, but as the interim IPRB librarian, I have made an effort to provide a wide range of resources and perspectives insofar as effectively addressing issues and finding coherent solutions means acknowledging the full human smorgasbord of the good, the bad and the ugly. If you're looking to find pure angels and absolute villans, you will do so here...if only you close one eye.

May your visit to IPRB be useful and thought-provoking. And by all means, if you have a relevant website, database or your own blog, please leave a comment with your URL address so that it may be added to the IPRB collection.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?