Mantras and the arch of leadership

China Ching

The best way philanthropy can support Indigenous Peoples is by backing the continuum of leadership between, within and across communities

A few months ago, I found myself in the middle of the rainforest in Borneo. We had been invited by the Dayak Ibanic community of Sui Utik[1] in West Kalimantan who are protecting their territory from logging and the encroachment of oil-palm plantations. This is no small feat. Borneo is ground zero for oil-palm devastation. Nowhere else in the world has more native rainforest been destroyed. We were travelling as part of a learning exchange which brought together 25 Indigenous youth from 14 countries, hosted by the Pawanka Fund. Pawanka, an Indigenous-led grantmaker, has built its model on Indigenous worldviews. Exchanges are not only designed to be experiential, support capacity and strengthen leadership but, importantly, to build solidarity.

Once in the forest, the rhythm of community began to hum: some went to the river to swim, others sat sorting forest greens, laundry was hung, cups of sugary coffee appeared, rumours began about what we might have for dinner. One group, we heard, had gone in search of boar, another deer. I settled on the steps and watched the forest change colour in the light. One of our hosts came and sat with me. ‘It’s amazing how there are no mosquitos,’ I remarked. She pointed to the rafters which held offerings. ‘Mantras (prayers),’ she replied. ‘Mantras.’

Today, AMAN represents 2,366 member communities (19 million people). Its roots lie in the 1980s as an activist group and it has evolved as a social, economic and political force in Indonesia.

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