Reflection on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples, by Grace Duterte (2011)

Recently in the APC/ESSC office in Malaybalay, we shared about the Jesuit ministry to Indigenous Peoples.  Many people are new while others have been long at the work, but the depth of human engagement and simply, the love experienced with the Pulangiyen community have moved all.

Management: Grace DuterteGrace Duterte has worked with ESSC for over six years and shared her insights during the discussion. Grace saw the neglect of the local culture and our role in alleviating the status of Indigenous Peoples and supporting them in their desire for equality and integration with broader society. This is a whole new dimension to her work, which she has not previously engaged with.

“I saw the presentation on responses to indigenous community needs and it opened my eyes.  I realized that we can do much more in seeking quality life with Indigenous Peoples.  It is a great challenge for me to find out how am I going to love the culture and understand further these people.  By ethnicity, I am one of them, but my thoughts, deeds, and acts are not as theirs.

Getting to know their language will now be my goal so that I may be able to relate with them.  Not even a single word can I speak and understand.  My grandmother is a pure Lumad of the Bukidnon tribe but she didn’t even bother, though she had quite some time, to teach us her language. Maybe that was the effect of society on her; she thought it was better not to talk about her life and her people, even with her children.

Over the past decades, these people were oftentimes the discriminated ones. They were not given any place or importance; they were deprived of benefits that they ought to have.  They were treated as unequal and so they do not have life they might be longing for, a life that anybody longs for.  It is as if they do not belong to society; it has been too hard for them to attain, and it has gone too far out of their reach.  They seem to be “kawawa” (unfortunate). Why have we done this to them?

I have come to realize how much time I have wasted in not making the effort of knowing more deeply what and who I am.  I never thought of the people and the culture as important for me to know.  Or maybe because I also do not have the will to know it since we were not taught about their culture, practice and tradition.  If I could only bring back the time, when my lola (grandmother) was still alive, then I could ask her these important facts and realities.

Deep in my heart, I feel for these people.  But I have never been able to understand the true value and meaning of their life, as I have never known how it feels to be one of them.  It is not about who has done any good to them. Rather, it is all about valuing, respecting, understanding, and treating them the way we want to be treated.  Pedro said that the work in Bendum is not about him or other Jesuits, it is not about the organization.  Rather, it is about the willingness and courage to do good and help the Pulangiyen and others to alleviate their status so that they engage in society with equality.

Establishing programs and activities for the purpose of the community in developing their potentials, skills, knowledge, abilities and capabilities to be productive individuals – fully alive and sharing their lives – is what it is all about. It is about bridging the gap between Indigenous Peoples and local society, and thus, giving the former the opportunity to be emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, and economically stable so they can be confident and relate with society.  With the close coordination, participation and engagement of different individuals and organizations, this human development can be realized. It’s a matter of getting involved and living within their means.

This could be the way that I may be able to grasp a better understanding of why I need to belong and be part of a culture. It doesn’t matter who and what we are but how we can be of help in attaining the goals of human development. It is a challenge for me to pursue a new beginning and examine my values and attitudes towards these people.

The institute has done much in accompanying them as they develop their potentials, gain an education and safeguard their rights. Despite differences in our perceptions, attitudes, values, character, religion, thoughts and ideals, we can still work together in harmony for peace, prosperity and equality with the intention of total human development.”

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