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Indigenous links across the Pacific.

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When I first joined Pacific Peoples' Partnership in the spring of 2004, this 29 years young organization was well known across Canada and the Pacific for its Indigenous Peoples Abroad Programme (IPAP). The product of a fruitful collaboration since 1999 with Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, this flagship programme helped craft PPP's unique niche. No other Canadian NGO has North-South Indigenous linking so central to its mission. Indeed everything from the logo created by Solomon Islands artist Ake Lianga evoking North South Indigenous ties across Oceania to PPP's constitution makes this linking the very essence of PPP. IPAP created meaningful opportunities for Aboriginal Canadians to engage in international cooperation in a Pacific indigenous context, sharing knowledge and insights gleaned in their home communities with Pacific counterparts confronting similar challenges. From 1999 to mid 2006, nearly 85 young professionals from Canadian First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities honed their skills during six month placements. IPAPs holistic approach honoured traditional knowledge, values often lacking in mainstream initiatives. In addition to fostering rich learning opportunities, IPAP built a body of knowledge and best practises that continue to inform PPP's work.

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In its inaugural year, IPAP participants were placed as far as Siberut Island in the remote Mentawei group of Indonesia and in Sarawak, Malaysia as well as in Fiji and Vanuatu. Subsequent years saw placements in Aotearoa (New Zealand), Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and eventually the Solomon Islands. Participants originated from every region of Canada representing a broad cross section of Canada's First Peoples who served as exemplary ambassadors for their home communities, PPP and Canada. Former participants have since gone on to distinguish themselves professionally and personally in many walks of life, still proudly carrying the lessons learned and experiences gained through IPAP.

Four years after its funding was cut, IPAP remains one of PPP's best-known initiatives and greatest success stories of its 35year history. However, it's just one of a rich portfolio of past and present initiatives that have fostered North-South Indigenous links at PPP. A proper list including acknowledgements would fill the pages of this edition so a few highlights will have to suffice.

Pacific Networking Conferences have been key forums for sharing Indigenous perspectives on international cooperation that respect culture and traditional knowledge. They include delegates from both South Pacific communities and Canadian First Nations to address issues of North and South concern, enriching the work of PPP to achieve better results, while forging enduring links of solidarity and friendship.

Sharing of creativity is another aspect of PPP's Indigenous linking. A recent example was Hailans toAilans in the fall of 2009. The initiative brought contemporary visual and performing artists from the highlands and islands of Papua New Guinea to Vancouver Island. It included an exhibition at Alcheringa Gallery and a dynamic performance at the Wawadit'la First Nations Bighouse in Victoria. Indigenous artists are transcending the post-colonial economic, social and environmental challenges faced by their societies and keeping their rich cultural traditions alive and vibrant.

Strong women-Focused Initiatives

The Fijian ECOwOMAN project, Women, Science and Technology for a Better Pacific Environment, ran from 1998 to 2001. Bringing together professional and grassroots women to share their respective knowledge and expertise, the project enhanced Pacific women's understanding and use of science and technology to improve their lives and participate effectively in environmental management and sustainable development. PPP and SPACHEE (South Pacific Action Committee on Human Ecology and the Environment) were partners in the establishment of ECOWOMAN, creating holistic, peoplecentred, environmentally sustainable approaches to science and technology. Women from a diversity of social backgrounds worked together to solve environmental problems in their communities.

A subsequent programme in Fiji that strengthened traditional knowledge in the Pacific and Canada was WAINIMATE (Women's Association for Natural Medicinal Therapy), running from 19992003. wAINIMATE combined the preservation and enhancement of traditional and western science-based knowledge in forest and environmental protection. It enhanced women's status and offered potential for poverty alleviation through support of a collective of Indigenous women healers protecting culturally and economically significant biodiversity, preserving traditional ecological knowledge and practising traditional medicine. It forged links with Canadian First Nation traditional medicine practitioners through a series of exchanges that included training workshops on governance, intellectual property rights and biodiversity conservation.

A traditional medicine handbook was published and widely distributed. Traditional medicinal gardens were established at health centres with the cooperation of the Fiji Ministry of Health. Due in large part to the intervention of PPP, WAINIMATE was able to secure UNESCO funding for its work in the preservation of Indigenous Knowledge as well as for its success in improving the health of local communities.

Both WAINIMATE and ECOWOMAN benefitted immensely from the participation of IPAP participants as well as exchanges with Canadian First Nations communities. The rich sharing and results achieved through these linking initiatives continue to inform the work of PPP in its 35th year.

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Environmental Initiatives

A recent programme that owes an immense debt to IPAP is Shifting Tides: Indigenous Responses to Global Climate Change. In 2007-2008 it brought together scientists, elders, youth leaders and concer-ned community members in Rarotonga and across Canada. Coordinated by former IPAP participant Stephanie Peter of the Cowichan First Nation, the delegation included Mona Belleau, another former IPAP participant as its Arctic Canadian representative. Climate change is impacting the Small Island Developing States and the polar regions far more severely than temperate latitudes so it is imperative that people living in these zones engage in informed discussions on adaptation and mitigation measures that address food security along with economic, social and cultural well-being. Shifting Tides sponsored a wide range of forums from large symposia at places like the University of British Columbia to small gatherings in First Nations communities with participation by a broad cross section of leaders, youth and elders. This culminated in a visit to Iqaluit where South Pacific Islanders were exposed to the unique challenges faced by Arctic peoples in the face of rapid and unprecedented environmental changes.

Shifting Tides included a tour by the 37-member Te Korero Maori traditional dance and music ensemble from Rarotonga. Their vibrant high energy shows in Vancouver Island First Nations communities helped spread the message of environmental vulnerability of fragile island environments.

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The project was extensively covered by APTN, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, extending the reach deep into Aboriginal Canada. Learning was shared through Pacific Promises: A Story from the Leaders of Tomorrow, a children's book co-authored by Cowichan's Stephanie Peter and Deyna Marsh of the Cook Islands Ministry of Environment in Rarotonga. The book presents to children the issues of climate change in Pacific and Canadian Indigenous communities, inspiring them to become strong leaders in these challenging times. As a testament to the unique nature of this collaboration, Pacific Promises will be published by Theytus Books.

PPP's current Papua Land of Peace: Civil Society Leadership in Conflict Transformation continues the tradition of creating opportunities for sharing knowledge and best practices of community development, and ending resource conflicts as an essential prerequisite for achieving Millennium Development Goals through its work with Indigenous-led Papuan organizations in Manokwari, West Papua, Indonesia.

These are just a few ways PPP has played a role in forging vital North South Indigenous links over these past 35 years. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to friends and partners across the Pacific, in Canada and beyond for enabling this priceless work to take place.

Glenn Raynor is currently pursuing a two-year Masters degree in Conflict Analysis and Peace-building in Tokyo, Japan as a Rotary World Peace Fellow. See his report from the Solomon Islands, page 24, as he completes the Applied Field Experience component of the programme.

By Glenn Raynor, PPP Executive Director, 2004-2009
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Author:Raynor, Glenn
Publication:Tok Blong Pasifik
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 22, 2010
Words:1287
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