Pacific Regional Training Workshop

Whangarei, New Zealand

21 - 25 May 2018

Pacific Regional Training Workshop on National Arrangements on Traditional Knowledge for Achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 18 and Contributing to Aichi Biodiversity Target 16 of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020

Introduction

The Pacific Regional Training Workshop on National Arrangements looked at the Aichi Biodiversity Target 18 pertaining to traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities which are relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and the people’s customary utilisation of biological resources. An assurance is necessary to ensure that these are respected, subject to national legislation and relevant international obligations — fully integrated and reflected in the implementation of the Convention with complete and effective participation of indigenous and local communities at all levels. The Aichi Biodiversity Target 18 was considered in conjunction with Target 16 being the Nagoya Protocol, which looked at Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits arising from their employment, consistent with national legislation.

 

Purpose

In essence, the workshop was about establishing mechanisms for the protection of indigenous people’s traditional knowledge.  Currently, the countries are at different stages in relation to the development and implementation of the Nagoya Protocol.  A few nations like the Cook Islands have legislation in place for the protection of indigenous knowledge.  Furthermore, the workshop focused on the sharing of experiences from various participants and individuals present at the workshop.  Indigenous traditional knowledge is a national treasure so to speak, and must be safeguarded.

 

Workshop

The workshop was held in a perfect location as we considered the importance of retaining and protecting traditional knowledge, culture, language and all that distinguishes us as unique peoples from the rest of the world.  ‘Te Kopu’ (organization hosting the workshop) was in a location surrounded by families and a full immersion school that was more or less part of this workshop. The presence of the children and their performance of allocated tasks were constant reminders of the important undertaking at hand that may impact future generations.

 

Participants at the workshop were at different stages of involvement and understanding of the Biodiversity Convention, let alone the Nagoya Protocol.  Consequently, for some, such as the author — the different acronyms articulated in the Convention were challenging as no full explanation of the abbreviations were explained, which created a disconnection with presentations and discussions. This concern was however alleviated through the various group discussions, role plays and other activities.

Photo credit: Tui Shortland (Te Kopu)

Way Forward

At the moment there are projects underway with Tauranga Vananga (Ministry of Cultural Development) and Tu’anga Taporoporo (National Environment Service) in the Cook Islands for the collection of traditional knowledge.  Moreover, at this stage, it may be a good idea if these projects could be extended to New Zealand and Australia where most of our Cook Islands population now reside.  The retention of traditional knowledge and practice has ordinarily been handed down orally.  However, nowadays, it is crucial to consider documentation of traditional knowledge and for this knowledge to be archived appropriately.

Photo credit: Tui Shortland (Te Kopu)

Conclusive remarks

The workshop provided a channel for understanding the issues encountered by fellow indigenous people from around the Pacific region, for the protection of their traditional knowledge.  The knowledge comes in different forms and in most cases indigenous people need to be made aware of what they possess and the importance of retaining the knowledge, hence preventing it from disappearing or being stolen.  There are a few countries that have legislation in place for the protection of indigenous and the Cook Islands happen to be one of those few.  The Cook Islands Traditional Knowledge Act was passed in 2013, and is being administered and implemented by the Tauranga Vananga.

In the Cook Islands context, there are a few issues that need to be addressed in order to make the existence of this Act relevant.  One that is quite urgent is the issue of migration and immigration. Presently, the author believes that most of the knowledge custodians who are still alive reside outside the Cook Islands.  This means their knowledge is no longer practiced in country.  While a lot Cook Islanders have left the country and more are still leaving, a lot of immigrants have settled in the islands, giving the natural environment a different outlook or having a divergent view from that of the indigenous population.

In terms of natural remedies or traditional medicine, its practice and use is no longer visible in the islands.  Some fifteen to twenty years ago, there was a project under Tu’anga Taporoporo where a piece of land in Ngatangiia was allocated and protected for the purpose of protecting and growing traditional medicinal plants.  Vairakau mimi (traditional medicine for cleansing of human body systems) and other traditional medicines were made and offered to the general public at Environment Service events. At these events, the traditional medicine ta’unga (expert or specialist), under the leadership of the late More Rua, spoke about the various medicines.  Most of these remedies were made to clean out our human systems.  This project created some level of enthusiasm amongst the ta’unga, enticing interests from others.  At one stage however, this practice was challenged by the Western medical practitioners.  As a result the ta’unga retreated and to some extent stopped practicing.

While research needs to be conducted, the author would like to put forward the suggestion that the increase in the number of dialysis referral cases from the Cook Islands today is directly related to the time the traditional medicine use and practice was challenged — where less people consumed the vairakau mimi. The author is of the view that the protection of our traditional knowledge is a significant part of the Cook Islands indigenous people’s journey in rediscovering themselves to be that special and unique people once again. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), biodiversity typically measures variation at the genetic, the species, and the ecosystem level.

Writer Tauraki Raea is member of Kōrero o te `Ōrau.  For more information on the NGO and to support their work, please email korerooteorau@gmail.com.

© 2019 by Kōrero o te `Ōrau.