INTEGRAL ECOLOGY: Freeing Oppressed Indigenous Peoples


CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / October 9) – There are social advocates who refuse to describe Indigenous Peoples (IP) as oppressed people and victims historical injustices perpetrated by Christian colonizers. Indeed, they find no reason for the current generation of Christians to ask the IP for forgiveness. This perspective can be challenged by revisiting the history of colonization in the Philippines and analyzing the root cause of the dehumanizing poverty that many IPs suffer from.

This woman belongs to the community of the Higanonon tribe in the sitio Mantaboo, Sil-ipon, Libona, Bukidnon. This was taken on January 14, 2021 during their celebratory mass. Photo courtesy of Fr. Reynaldo D. Raluto

It cannot be denied that there are oppressed indigenous peoples. See, for example, the thousands of families of the Manobo-Pulangihon tribe driven from their community in Barangay Butong, Quezon City in 2017.[i] This painful scenario can be seen as a continuation of the oppressive colonization suffered by IPs that began nearly 500 years ago. For this reason, the Indigenous Peoples Sunday cannot be faithfully celebrated without turning our gaze to this sad reality.

The dehumanizing poverty of many IPs

Many of our IP brothers and sisters collectively suffer from socio-economic poverty, which is evident in their difficulty in meeting basic human needs such as food, clothing, shelter, basic health care, education. basic, labor and necessary means of subsistence. live with dignity as a human person. Many of them are impoverished by oppressive and unjust social structures in our capitalist market economy.

Many IPs also struggle against socio-cultural poverty. Their cultural oppression, according to Virgil Elizondo, “has more to do with the very reality of which [they] are, where they were born, the color of their skin, the shape of their body, the language they speak, the ethnicity that radiates through every fiber of their being.[ii] In this sense, current racial and sexual discrimination can be seen as socio-cultural expressions of dehumanizing poverty.

Dominant approaches to solving economic poverty

Liberation theologians are well known for criticizing the two dominant strategies for tackling economic poverty. On the one hand, there is the empirical solution to poverty which tends to mobilize the rich to help the poor. This approach tends to consider those who have less in life as mere objects of pity and charity by those who have Following in life. The rich are encouraged to reduce poverty either by giving alms or by donating to the poor. Unfortunately, this system of distribution and this paternalistic response to poverty would only make the poor always dependent on the rich and passive members of society.

On the other hand, there is the functional approach which offers a modern solution to poverty. This developmental approach accepts the fact that the poor are materially dispossessed but also recognizes their labor potentials, which can be used by modern society to accelerate the march towards development and progress. In addition, this approach recognizes that the poor have natural resources that can be used for production and the world market. He sees the need to educate and professionalize the poor so that they can eventually be included in the production process under the capitalist system.

The liberating approach

The liberating approach does not subscribe to the two previous approaches. Proponents of the liberating approach seek to help the poor discover their immense capacity to overcome oppression by becoming matter or agent of their own release. Moreover, they do not treat the poor as mere liabilities. objects of charity by the rich benefactors. Moreover, they claim that the phenomenon of poverty is a negative social reality caused by the systematic oppression and exclusion of “the other”. Thus, their liberating approach seeks to transform “the type of society which always produces and reproduces poor and socially excluded human beings”.[iii]

The liberating solution to poverty involves transforming all forms of oppression that keep the poor trapped in the cycle of poverty. To do this, “the oppressed come together, come to understand their situation through the process of consciousness-raising, discover the causes of their oppression, organize themselves in movements and act in a coordinated manner”.[iv] In doing so, the poor are actively involved in the construction and process of their own “liberation which will lead to a new kind of relationship in production, political structures and value creation”.[v]

It must be recognized that the causes of dehumanizing poverty are extremely complex. It can be said that each form of poverty requires a specific and appropriate response. For example, the socio-cultural poverty suffered by IPs requires more than a simple liberation from socio-economic oppression. IPs suffer from a kind of cultural subjugation which “has reached the heart of the forces that produce culture”[vi] to the point of paralyzing their process of autonomous and potential civilization. Thus, beyond socio-economic liberation, they need to be liberated from a cultural oppression that has enslaved them since the colonial period, which continues subtly to the present day in the form of the globalized culture of the world. modernity.

The imperative of the struggle for agrarian justice

Pope John Paul II was the first pope to officially recognize the intimate link between IPs and their land. It was clear to him that when “indigenous peoples are deprived of their lands, they lose a vital part of their way of life and in fact run the risk of disappearing as a people”.[vii] IPs identify so closely with ancestral land that separating themselves from it would naturally lead to the destruction of their culture and eventually to their extinction. As such, John Paul II rightly links the land rights of indigenous peoples to the right to life.

In Laudato Si ‘ (LS),[viii] Pope Francis wants us to learn from IPs who treat the land not as a commodity but as “a gift from God and their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space they must interact with if they are to maintain their identity and their traditions. values ​​”(LS 146). He laments that the global trend of modern crops is forcing IPs “to abandon their native lands to make way for agricultural or mining projects that are undertaken without taking into account the degradation of nature and culture” (LS 146).

A concrete way of defending IPs is therefore to join IPs in their struggle for agrarian justice and to help them cope with the negative effects of modern cultures.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He is the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro where he also teaches fundamental/systematic theology and Catholic social teaching. He is the author of Poverty and Ecology at the Crossroads: An Ecological Theology of Liberation in the Philippine Context (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2015). His ecological advocacy includes planting/growing Philippine native trees, mountain climbing, and defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples.]

[i] See Jigger Jerusalem, “The Bukidnon tribe will not live as ‘squatters’, seek to return to their ancestral land”, Investigator. Report (September 24, 2021); (accessed September 24, 2021).

[ii] Virgilio Elizondo, “Culture, option for the poor and liberation”, in The option for the poor in Christian theology, ed. Daniel Groody (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 157-68, p. 159.

[iii] Leonardo Boff, “The Philosopher of the Poor” (January 16, 2004); available at (consultation date: September 14, 2007).

[iv] Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff, Presentation of liberation theology, translated from Portuguese by Paul Burns (New York: Orbis Books, 1987), 5.

[v] Leonard Boff, Ecology and liberation: a new paradigm, trad. John Cumming (New York, Orbis Books, 1995), 133.

[vi] Leonard Boff, Good news to the poor: a new evangelization, translated by Robert Barr (Tunbridge Wells: Burns and Oates, 1992).

[vii] John Paul II, “Building peace, respecting minorities: message of the World Day of Peace”, December 8, 1988, Origins 18 (1988), 466-469, at p. 468.

[viii] Francis, Laudato Si ‘: On care for our common home (May 24, 2015).



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