REFLECTING ON ATE TALA’S THESIS ON DECOLONIZATION AND LOCALIZATION AS A PREREQUISITE TO MY CORDILLERA IMMERSION

This month, I was tasked with reading and reflecting on Ate Tala Bautista’s thesis paper, which delves into themes of decolonization, localization, and their relevance to Coffee for Peace (CFP) and PeaceBuilders Community Incorporated (PBCI). The paper not only explores these topics’ personal significance to Ate Tala but also sheds light on how they are perceived by individuals within CFP and PBCI. Reflecting on this thesis paper alongside my experiences at CFP and PBCI was particularly enlightening, especially since I lack personal experience as an indigenous person grappling with decolonization and its multifaceted implications. This reflection is a required prerequisite for my 10-day immersion (01-10 July 2024) in the Cordillera Region at the northern part of the Philippines.

My perspectives on these issues are tainted, which was an easy conclusion to come to once I accepted the fact that it is easier for me to support the promotion of indigenous sovereignty in the Philippines than it is at home in Canada. This is an uncomfortable thing to tackle as the comparison is almost identical, you can find differences for sure but the moral argument is the same. My critiques stem from a fear Indigenous challenges to modern structures, a necessary process within decolonization. With this being said I do believe that indigenous peoples have a right to self determination within their ancestral domain. This is all said to put into context the perspective of a non indigenous person as my experience with many of the ideas discussed here is not a lived one making it difficult at times to fully comprehend the experiences of someone like Ate Tala.

Decolonization

A pivotal aspect of Ate Tala’s thesis paper is the discourse on decolonization, which holds significant relevance for PBCI and CFP as they collaborate with various communities striving towards this goal. Decolonization, in this context, transcends the historical narrative of European colonialism to encompass ongoing neo-colonial practices that perpetuate economic, political, and cultural imbalances. These structures undermine economic sovereignty and resource ownership in post-colonial states, a reality that indigenous groups in the Philippines actively confront as they reclaim autonomy over ancestral lands.

Neo-Colonial structures allow for states to exert economic, political, cultural, or military influence over former colonial states. This neocolonial grip often persists under the guise of economic aid, development projects, and international trade agreements that favor the interests of former colonial powers and multinational corporations. This includes seemingly innocent processes like joining the United Nations which requires states to open its markets to foreign investment and foreign ownership. This can lead to the dominance of multinational corporations, which often prioritize profit over local development, potentially undermining local businesses and industries. Additionally, foreign investment can result in the outflow of profits to other countries, limiting the reinvestment of earnings in the domestic economy, and perpetuating economic inequalities.

Indigenous peoples and local communities face the brunt of these imbalances, as their resources are extracted, their labor exploited, and their cultural identities marginalized. By understanding these dynamics, we can better appreciate the importance of initiatives like CFP and PBCI that seek to redress these historical and ongoing injustices. This is one of the reasons social enterprises can have such a large effect as they reinvest much of their profits into the communities they operate in.

Economic decolonization is integral to dismantling these inherited structures and dependencies, aiming for self-reliance, equitable growth, and sustainable development. This comprehensive approach includes resource redistribution, supporting local enterprises, ensuring financial independence, investing in education and capacity building, promoting environmental sustainability, implementing political reforms, and fostering regional integration. Economic decolonization seeks to empower local communities by shifting control over resources and decision-making processes back to the people most directly affected. This involves advocating for policies that protect local industries, promote fair trade, and reduce dependency on foreign aid and investment. By fostering economic resilience and self-sufficiency, communities can better withstand external shocks and assert their sovereignty over their economic destinies.

CFP plays a crucial role in addressing these challenges, particularly through initiatives that empower coffee farmers with entrepreneurial skills and advocate for fair pricing practices. By paying premium prices at their coffee shops and promoting quality standards, CFP contributes to dismantling economic inequities rooted in colonial legacies. The value chain education provided by CFP equips farmers with the knowledge to understand and navigate market dynamics, enhancing their bargaining power and enabling them to secure better prices for their products. This empowerment extends beyond individual farmers to the larger community as they often work alongside local cooperatives.

Localization

Moreover, CFP’s partnership approach, where community invitation precedes engagement, fosters mutual respect and cultural understanding. This collaborative model contrasts with traditional top-down approaches that often disregard local perspectives, exacerbating cultural tensions and undermining sustainable development efforts. The significance of localizing peacebuilding efforts, as discussed in Ate Tala’s thesis paper, lies in ensuring that communities are comfortable expressing their needs, have ownership over the response and are the leading voice throughout the whole process. 

There is a growing academic understanding of the role businesses and broader economic contexts play in regions dealing with conflict. This is especially true for internal conflicts, which are often driven by economic inequalities and a lack of economic opportunities. Ate Tala referenced several studies pointing to an increased emphasis on the relationship between conflict and various economic factors. This highlights the importance of organizations like CFP as they work with communities to provide economic opportunities and revenue streams through coffee production, helping sustain individuals and their families. This can help diminish someone’s belief that they have no other option to change their circumstance other than violence.

This approach aligns with broader efforts within PBCI to adopt localized strategies, as exemplified by early projects like the goat donation initiative in Mindanao. This project was aimed at connecting Mennonite families with Muslim ones in Mindanao through the donation of goats. The hope was to breed these goats with their offspring being given to another Mennonite family. While this concept was great and had the potential to have a real impact it ran into issues as it didn’t have the full contextual understanding of peoples who were living through war and had very immediate needs. Due to these immediate needs many of the goats ended up being eaten, sold or prepared for celebration. This project, though well-intentioned, highlighted the importance of a full contextual awareness.

PBCI’s growth and effectiveness today are testament to the lessons learned from such experiences, advocating for approaches that integrate local knowledge and prioritize community-led solutions. This localized approach was pivotal in piquing my interest in joining the organization, drawn by its commitment to genuine community engagement over the imposition of external agendas. My skepticism towards traditional mission-driven work stems from its tendency to impose Western ideologies and practices, often at the expense of local autonomy and cultural integrity.

Ate Tala’s thesis provides a profound exploration of decolonization and localization within the frameworks of CFP and PBCI, highlighting the importance of respectful engagement and localized context-specific approaches in fostering sustainable development and peace. Her work emphasizes the need for dismantling neo-colonial structures through economic sovereignty, equitable growth, and the empowerment of local enterprises. The experiences and reflections shared in this paper underscore the transformative potential of partnerships based on mutual respect and understanding, illustrating how CFP and PBCI seek to contribute to decolonization and the localization of peacebuilding efforts.

Permanent link to this article: https://waves.ca/2024/07/07/reflecting-on-ate-talas-thesis-on-decolonization-and-localization-as-a-prerequisite-to-my-cordillera-immersion/

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