A recent conference in Chiang Rai, Thailand, brought together representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Hong Kong-based Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism (ECTWT), Indigenous Peoples organizations and NGOs from Asia to share their experiences on the issues of globalization and tourism and to discuss strategies to uphold Indigenous Peoples rights in the face of mounting challenges posed by commercial tourism.

In this Clearinghouse issue, we present the Statement of the Chiang Rai Conference, which synthesizes the discussions and analysis and includes recommendations for further action. Questioning the sustainability of ecotourism and its economic benefits for local communities, the delegates particularly expressed concerns about the process of developing global guidelines for sustainable tourism under the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Year of Ecotourism (IYE), in accordance with statements and protest notes by many other Indigenous Peoples organizations and supportive groups and networks from around the world. Since traditional values, rights and the very fabric of Indigenous Peoples systems have been neglected, the Conference, among other things, called for non-cooperation with the IYE and demanded that all opening up of new areas as ecotourism destinations and any unfinished projects in the name of the IYE be stopped.

The campaign coordinating groups:

Third World Network

Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (t.i.m.-team), Thailand

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), Malaysia

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysia

Statement of Indigenous Peoples Interfaith Dialogue on Globalisation and Tourism, Chiang Rai, Thailand: January 14-18, 2002

We, the delegates at the Indigenous Peoples Interfaith Dialogue on Globalisation and Tourism in Chiang Rai, Thailand, coming from Bangladesh, Bolivia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand shared our collective experiences, and deliberated on the consequences of tourism under the strong influence of globalisation on Indigenous Communities.

The Penang meeting on ‘Mission Perspectives on Tourism’ (2001) and other indigenous dialogues are reaffirmed by the need for intervening and influencing international processes such as International Year of Ecotourism 2002 (IYE-2002), United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and World Trade Organisation/ General Agreement on Trade in Services (WTO/GATS) negotiations, since we have a vital stake in changing the world order. The response to these global processes will emerge from a clearer understanding and recognition of the strong ethical and spiritual dimensions and survival spirit of Indigenous Peoples in the changing world.

The purpose of this interfaith dialogue was therefore to link the debate on the problems of globalisation and tourism with the lives of Indigenous Peoples. The paradigm of market driven liberalisation and globalisation is lop sided and denies the pluralities of the peoples lives, which have always valued sustainability of development. We felt that two international processes were important: the CBD (article 8j) and the decision to implement the IYE-2002. Both these events have not given due consideration and space to the manner in which Indigenous Peoples process their discussions and participation of all their affiliates and groups around the world. Therefore this meeting feels that their participation has not been considered in the processes underway.

International financial institutions such as Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as intergovernmental bodies like the WTO have taken positions on issues concerning Indigenous Peoples that have far-reaching consequences for their survival. These events and policies are likely to be ratified by the countries where Indigenous Peoples are struggling for recognition and the affirmation of their rights.

We feel that there is a need for a united position, which carries all the peoples and their movements against the ramifications of these policies, together to contribute to the creation of a just and equal world. The basis of this common understanding should reflect the view that the primary rights holders of our lands, resources and ecological wealth are the Indigenous Peoples.

The Secretariat of the CBD has rushed through, without due consultation, to circulate a draft of global guidelines for activities related to sustainable tourism and biodiversity. The process has been questioned by Indigenous Peoples organisations and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs). Whereas these guidelines have serious implications for the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples, they have not been given the time or the platform to present their considered opinion on the guidelines. In fact they have questioned the need for global guidelines since their life worlds are distinct and their cultures diverse.

The meeting calls for an immediate reconsideration and review of the global guidelines pending the informed participation and deliberation by Indigenous Peoples and their organisations. For this purpose this meeting has suggested that a plan of action be developed to ensure that these guidelines are not presented to the conference of parties (COP) without the substantive participation by Indigenous Peoples and advocates.

There are two drafts in circulation. One is the official draft circulated by the secretariat of the CBD. The other is a revised draft by NGOs at a workshop in Delhi. We would like all concerned to look at these drafts and send in their amendments to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the CBD secretariat so that wider discussion and concerns can be represented in a transparent and democratic manner.

We demand that the CBD consider our amendments to the Drafts mentioned above for which adequate time and space be given to our views on the issue of guidelines which will be binding on us through our governments. Unless we are given this time, we will not consider these guidelines to be a part of the stakeholder process that has been established through the UNCSD process.

The World Council of Churches (WCC), Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism (ECTWT) and other fraternal networks can project this issue in their consultations to take the participatory process further. They could support regional and sub-regional workshops to ensure that all parties respect the dignity, right to life, and protection of fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Similarly, the IYE-2002 is being launched on January 28. We view this as a hasty process and since the basic principle of transparency in decision making was not observed, we feel that our critique of ecotourism as a form of commercial tourism reinforcing the process of dispossession of Indigenous Peoples by destroying their life systems has been disregarded. This meeting calls for non-cooperation with the IYE. To convey our decision we are sending this statement as a strong protest to the UNEP and informing them of our reasons for non-cooperation.

We believe that further work needs to be done by our organisations to demystify the belief in the sustainability of ecotourism and its economic benefits. We feel that it is important for Indigenous Peoples to articulate their own experience with tourism and reflect on its impacts and meaning. We also feel that it is necessary to point out the vulnerability of the tourism industry and evaluate the impacts of the Asian Financial Crisis and ‘9/11’ on the future of tourism in the developing world.

We are also concerned with the increase in the number of protected areas and the expansion of tourism into other natural and rural areas and communities which has played a role in the displacement of Indigenous Peoples. We see the IYE-2002 initiative as part of the dispossession process through increased privatisation and globalisation. We demand that all opening up of new areas and any unfinished projects in the name of IYE-2002 be stopped.

Tourism in the context of globalisation brings in market competition, appropriates lands and resources of indigenous communities, and forces Indigenous Peoples to become showcases and “human museum exhibits”. Indigenous Peoples are becoming increasingly vulnerable to exploitation by bioprospectors and biopirates, where traditional wisdom and knowledge and natural resources have been expropriated for business interests.

We affirm the apriori rights of Indigenous Peoples to their traditional lands, territories, and resources, the integrity of which has been sustained by generations through their traditional way of life in harmony with nature. 

We uphold that the traditional values and very fabric of Indigenous Peoples systems, which include social, cultural, resource management, belief, education, agricultural, technological, political, judicial, health, and economic systems, can contribute alternatives to our current human, economic and environmental crises.

We recognise the strong ethical and spiritual dimensions, and the survival spirit of Indigenous Peoples in the changing world.

The modern tourism industry leaves limited choices to indigenous communities to reject it. They are trapped by the powerful corporate interests at work, the lure of economic incentives, and the perception that it will enable the preservation of indigenous cultures and traditions.

Indigenous Peoples have come to realize that much have been lost while gaining little under the process of globalisation and expansion of tourism.  The representatives of Indigenous Peoples organisations and movements, participating in this meeting urge to strive for regaining indigenous peoples rights as understood by their communities and as recognized under existing international rights covenants, conventions, and laws.

The representatives of indigenous communities have expressed their determination to implement the following plans and strategies to uphold their rights in the face of mounting challenges of commercial tourism:

1.   Informal education for the community and incorporation of indigenous knowledge systems into the curriculum of formal schooling as a way of passing down the traditional wisdom and values will be given the top priority.

2.   More active global networking among indigenous organisations and supporting groups, strong indigenous rights advocacy and campaigns in the United Nations system, and other international organisations and bodies will be promoted.

3.   Recognising the importance of sharing of information, newsletters, email groups and other forms of communication will be launched. Exchanges amongst indigenous leaders at the grass-root level will be encouraged. News on traditional events in indigenous communities will be circulated among this collective. Local level workshops, seminars and community training on tourism will be organized to provide alternative perspectives on tourism and cultural exchanges.

4.      Understanding the diverse political systems within which Indigenous Peoples organisations negotiate their struggles, the collective would adopt flexible strategies in its campaigns. In this context, we urge Asian Governments to recognise the land rights, human rights and right to citizenship of indigenous peoples as integral to the democratisation process.

5.   It is important for Indigenous Peoples to articulate their own experience with tourism and reflect on its impacts and meaning. It is this view that should form the basis for future action. WCC (World Council of Churches), ECTWT (Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism/ECOT-Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism) and other international organisations can provide for such regional studies by Indigenous Peoples.

For more information on the Conference Indigenous Peoples Interfaith Dialogue on Globalisation and Tourism, you may contact the World Council of Churches (Bishop Eugenio Poma or the Ecumenical Coalition of Third World Tourism (Rev. Tan Chi Kiong