Learning and Living Our Elders’ Wisdom: Youth Power for Land, Forests, and Territories in Asia

Reflections and Recommendations from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities

Author: 16 organizations across Asia spanning youth groups, Indigenous networks, and ally organizations

Date: October 16, 2023

Co-authored with 15 organizations across Asia—spanning youth groups, Indigenous networks, and ally organizations—this new report brings to the fore the experiences and leadership of youth activists into a Call to Action.

Indigenous and local community youth in Asia, and around the world more broadly, often straddle what seem like impossible compromises. They navigate the delicate balance between forces of modernization and their intergenerational connection to home and community.

This report shows how by building a strong intergenerational bond with their communities, culture, and ecological context, youth become self-motivated defenders of their collective rights. Mentors and movements energize their growth, and solidarity from allies strengthens their struggles.

Here are 5 key principles they recommend for building Indigenous and local community youth leadership in 2024 and beyond:

  1. Youth organizing is always intergenerational
  2. Leaders create more leaders
  3. Youth learn by leading and allies lead by trusting them
  4. Youth safety is a shared duty
  5. Solidarity is sacred

Young people often understand what is at stake because they have experienced it. They understand that their issues are interconnected and entrenched because they have struggled to untangle and overcome them. But most importantly, they are ready to consolidate the commitment and wisdom needed to win together.

The co-authors of this report are: Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara; Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact; Asia Indigenous Youth Platform; Asia Young Indigenous Peoples Network; Barisan Pemuda Adat Nusantara; Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Alliance; Cambodia Indigenous Youth Association; Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Research and Development; Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal; Kaum Muda Tanah Air (KATA) Indonesia; Konsorsium Pembaruan Agraria; RECOFTC; Rights and Resources Initiative; RMI-The Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment; and Youth Federation of Indigenous Nationalities.

  • Related Materials

Related Materials

Indigenous and Local Community Youth in Asia

  • The comic book “Let’s Go Back Home” was co-produced by the Mae Yod village, Pgakenyaw Association for Sustainable Development (PASD) and Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), with the aim of creating love, respect, and pride among the Indigenous youth for their origin and cultural identity and generating a deeper understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ lives and livelihoods among the public. Their traditional way of life and culture which is closely intertwined with nature, is illustrated by the Pgakenyaw Indigenous Peoples who have their own language, culture, traditions, and rich knowledge to manage their own community and natural resources sustainably.
  • This report of the founding conference of the 2007 Asia-Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN), offers rich storytelling and narrative from an event with more than 100 participants from 17 countries in Asia-Pacific. Aiming to harness the dynamism and idealism of Indigenous youth for international environmental campaigns and their greater participation in activities of the United Nations, the conference consisted of three major parts: forest and convention on biodiversity, leadership training, and preparatory meetings for the UNPFII07 and the APIYN assembly proper. The report covers each of these sections in detail, with an additional focus on gender.
  • “Back to the Village: Indigenous Education in Indonesia” is a documentary film of Indigenous educators gathering from across Indonesia and the Philippines in Kasepuhan Ciptegalar, West Java. They discuss the problems of the existing education system and develop a vision of the future how it is important for Indigenous Peoples to start their own education—their Indigenous education which methods and contents are self-determined.
  • The book chapter “Carrying on the Fight” portrays the four issues Indigenous Peoples in Asia are facing from the perspective of Aisah, Indigenous youth, who has been a part of the Indigenous Peoples’ struggle in the Philippines and engaging with other Indigenous youth organizations in Asia as part of the Asia Young Indigenous Peoples Network (AYIPN). She elaborates the answers from questions of “why” and “how” Indigenous youth can better the situation of Indigenous Peoples and become present and future leaders. Questions are later elaborated by presenting good practices that have been done by various youth groups, including members of AYIPN, in local, national, regional, and international contexts.
  • “Empowering Indigenous and Local Community Youth for a Sustainable World” is the recording of International Youth Day 2023 Celebration that was conducted on August 11, 2023, led by youth organizations from Indonesia, Nepal, and India (KATA, BPAN, and YFIN) and regional group Asia Indigenous Youth Platform (AIYP), with technical support from RECOFTC, RRI, and AIPP. For 2.5 hours, Indigenous and local communities across the Asia region shared their perspectives, experiences, and expertise on activism, land rights, and sustainable land management highlighting the importance of intergenerational knowledge passed down from elders to youth, enabling Indigenous Peoples and local communities to live sustainably and harmoniously with nature.

Collective Land Rights in Asia

  • The report “Reconciling Conservation and Biodiversity Goals with Community Land Rights in Asia” was co-authored by 20+ Indigenous and local community organizations in South and Southeast Asia. It frames conservation beyond being an issue of natural resource management and highlights the question of governance, autonomy, and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to achieve their self-determined development aspirations. It brings together data and stories from communities on the ground to re-position global human rights and conservation discourses at the center of Asia’s unique political realities.
  • The brief “Under the Cover of Covid: New Laws in Asia Favor Business at the cost of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Land and Territorial Rights” examines legislative developments in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines during COVID-19, highlighting the undermining of sustainable human-environment interactions and the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities over their customary territories. It summarizes the legislative developments through three themes: opportunistic advancements, corporate stimulus and compensation, and top-down pandemic solutions that undermine Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ rights.

Global Analysis

  • The Land Rights Standard was developed by the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development (IPMG) and Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), with the support of Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) and Global Landscapes Forum (GLF). It has been endorsed by 74 institutions, organizations, companies, and investors. It is a set of best practice principles for recognizing and respecting the land and resource rights of Indigenous Peoples, local communities and Afro-descendant Peoples in landscape restoration and management, conservation, climate action, and development projects and programs.
  • The second edition of “Who Owns the World’s Land?” reports on progress over the first five years (2015–2020) of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement, and the Land Rights Now target to double the area of community-owned land by providing updated data on the extent of lands legally recognized as designed for and owned by Indigenous Peoples and local communities in 73 countries covering 85 percent of global lands. It also revisits and expands upon estimates of the land area that Indigenous, Afro-descendant, and local communities traditionally hold and use, but to which their rights are not yet legally recognized by national governments.
  • The “Next Generation Leadership Project” by LifeMosaic features projects that are creating and hosting unique trainings for Indigenous youth, focused on awakening their calling to defend their territories and providing them with the skills to facilitate participatory processes grounded in their own cultures. This work supports the emergence of a new generation of grassroots community leaders, movement-builders, and agents of change and supports communities to put into practice their self-determined development using over 75 methods for participation, many of which are from Indigenous Peoples themselves.
  • The Youth Climate Justice Study has a reading list of articles, analyses, and reports from 1999 to 2022 that have been written on the evolution and impact of youth-led climate justice movements. It aims to serve as a useful resource for people working within the movement or its funders. A hyperlink is provided for each article, although some of the academic papers are behind paywalls or require a request to be made to the author, but many of them are easy to download. Most of the academic research and grey literature cited here dates to 2019 or later, reflecting the upsurge in global youth climate organizing during this time.