Tribes and Natures Defenders Inc. is an Indigenous-led organisation working to defend the survival of nature and cultures in the Philippines by tackling areas such as land rights, poverty, healthcare and environmental destruction.
Keep reading to find out how Onaway’s support has made a significant impact on the lives of the local community.
Tribes and Natures Defenders (TRINAD) Inc. is a small organisation based in Mindanao, the Philippines, working towards its vision of a world in which all Indigenous peoples, irrespective of gender, beliefs and culture, work together to defend their rights, lifestyle and natural surroundings. The organisation was established by elders of the Higaonon, a tribe of more than 1,350 members living in the rainforest 85km from Iligan City. The Higaonon are known as the people of the living mountains and believe in connectivity between the sacred forest, wildlife and Mother Earth as a whole.
Unfortunately, this peace-loving community faces an increasing number of hardships due to discrimination, lack of governmental support and intrusion from outside forces such as mining companies. With poverty, food insecurity, deforestation and illness now threatening not only their cultural heritage but their very survival, TRINAD is fighting back in order to protect their rainforest home and the wildlife that they live harmoniously alongside, as well as to bring improvements to areas such as community healthcare, education, and food security in a way which supports and promotes their native culture, traditions and values.
“The sacred mountains are the blood of the tribes.”
PURCHASE OF SACRED LAND
Having first supported TRINAD’s mission in 2014, the Onaway Trust was alarmed to hear a few years later that areas of the tribes’ ancestral land were being sold off to outside investors such as mining and logging corporations, coconut plantation owners and real estate companies. Poverty and false promises of large profits were leading local tribal dealers to sacrifice hundreds of hectares of these sacred lands to groups with a lack of appreciation for its true value.
However, the Higaonon people were determined to save the sacred forests in order to protect the abundant wildlife which also called it home, as well as to preserve their Indigenous culture, traditions and knowledge for the benefit of their children and future generations. The loss of the remaining land would have been a grave tragedy, being the only area of forest left in which the Higaonon could practise their culture and ensure the conservation of the precious nature, which additionally provides lowland areas with protection from natural disasters.
“We believe that we are the last custodians of the Earth; forest destruction is tribal extinction.”
Fortunately, with the help of the Onaway Trust, TRINAD Inc. was able to purchase 130 hectares of this sacred land in Rogongon, Iligan City, thus taking the pressure off the community who, in their desperation, may have been pushed into handing over the land to those who would exploit it for profit and greed.
In contributing to the purchase of this land, Onaway has ensured that it will be protected from further sale or encroachment in the future. TRINAD Inc. and elders of the community have implemented laws and policies to guarantee the preservation of their Indigenous cultures and beliefs, and the use of signs and forest rangers at land boundaries prevent the entry of outsiders from threatening the native wildlife.
“The funds from the Onaway Trust stopped the entry of loggers and miners.”
In addition to helping to defend this precious territory, the Onaway Trust has invested in farming initiatives to ensure better food security and to provide these Indigenous communities with an income which can be sustainably sourced from the land.
Alongside the pressure of outsiders trying to take over their land, hunger and a lack of the funds needed to carry out eco-friendly farming have been further contributing factors which have unfortunately pushed tribal communities to resort to the destruction of their own environment.
For this reason, over several years Onaway has funded the purchase of thousands of abaca and Lakatan banana seeds which can be grown and sold to provide a sustainable food and income source for the local community, while also ensuring the protection of the natural environment and creating jobs. Ten hectares of banana crops now provide four harvests a year which the 1000 members of the Higaonon tribal communities living in the Balatok sacred forest in Rogongon, Iligan City can benefit from both financially and nutritionally.
HEALTHCARE & WELLBEING
Onaway has been a key ally of TRINAD Inc. throughout the years, having further supported the healthcare and wellbeing of communities such as the Higaonon and Manobo tribes by funding the construction of the ‘Tribal Healing House’ health centre. In addition to providing a safe space for people with health problems, emergencies and victims of disasters to be treated, healthcare training programmes have been delivered to Indigenous communities, empowering them to take charge of their own wellbeing and become more self-reliant.
These communities were hit extra hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, when restrictions meant that people were unable to go out to work or sell their goods, including the banana crops that they now relied on for income. With no support from the government due to discrimination and their distance from major cities, Indigenous communities were quickly running out of crops as well as locally foraged foods to sustain themselves.
With the Onaway Trust’s support, Tribes and Natures Defenders were able to distribute rice, canned goods and hygiene essentials to 400 people from 50 households, greatly lessening the financial and emotional strain on local people which had been further exacerbated during this trying time.
A BRIGHTER FUTURE
With their land now protected, healthcare and wellbeing improved and the banana crops providing a sustainable income, the Higaonon tribe are now able to look towards the future. Their next goal is to build a sanctuary hall in which to carry out teaching, cultural ceremonies, gatherings and events, and to provide a refuge for victims of natural disasters.
The organisation hopes that, by having a space to share beliefs and culture in the community, the wave of tribal members being influenced by and converting to western religions will be halted and native cultural identity and heritage will be protected for the benefit of many more generations to come.
“We believe that the Onaway Trust not only treated us as a partner, but a family.”- Tribal Elder