In February, we are sharing stories about BU’s research funded from the Global Challenges Research Fund. This funding enables BU academics to undertake cutting-edge research in partnership with organisations in developing countries. These projects help to build collaborations with researchers, policy-makers and practitioners, ensuring that the outcomes of the research have tangible outcomes and impacts for people in those countries. This research was able to continue, despite the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, predominantly by redesigning the projects to reduce BU staff travel and increase local delivery in the beneficiary countries. This change in delivery was beneficial to the research as it encouraged greater partnership working, ensured projects were led by in-country organisations, and will help in the long-term to ensure projects are sustainable after GCRF funding ends.
In Costa Rica and Malaysia, Professor Sarah Ashencaen Crabtree and Professor Jonathan Parker are leading a project focussing upon the inclusion of indigenous people’s voices in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Inspired by their earlier study exploring the impact of industrialised environmental degradation affecting Malaysian indigenous people, they found that indigenous Costa Ricans face different problems. For both, exploitation of traditional indigenous land occurs through social policy drivers prioritising State profits. These consequently hold potentially serious implications for the future survival of indigenous lifestyles and their social and cultural integrity, which are based on traditional indigenous territories, access and use of these. The UN Declaration of Indigenous People notes that indigenous rights are inherently connected to indigenous territories as cultural capital.
This study brings together two indigenous communities living in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves: the Bribri of Talamanca, Costa Rica and the Jakun people of Tasik Chini, Malaysia. They developed dialogues with both groups, sharing their experiences and knowledge aimed at achieving genuine ‘voice’ for self-advocacy in policy development. The team facilitated capacity-building research using indigenous methodologies, where indigenous people are active participants, creating accessible, bio-cultural ‘experiential’ storybook’ narratives with theorised alternative approaches towards inclusive, respectful social policies.
The research team is composed of social scientists, cultural-linguists and (ethno) botanists from four main collaborating universities: lead HEI Bournemouth University, the UN Mandated – University for Peace, Costa Rica, National University – Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, National University – Universidad de Costa Rica. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA provides advisory input. Two of the team members are Indigenous groups and are either directly members of the communities under study or have very loose working and personal links with them. This has facilitated the study to a crucial degree and ensured that an equitable and responsive working relationship of shared responsibility, accountability and effective communication loops was established from the beginning.
Dialogues constructed between Indigenous peoples refer to State-driven social and economic development initiatives. Indigenous methodologies employed for power sharing, enabled indigenous participants to shape study aims, process and outcomes:
- Creation of constructive dialogue aimed at poverty reduction.
- Raising the visibility of hidden needs and amplifying muted voices.
- Assisting in the attainment of SDGs, political and material gain.
- Developing indigenous research methodologies and partnerships.
- Enhancing social justice and human rights.
The team believe that the study holds untapped potential for transformatory ideas and actions, peacefully bringing about change and development via genuine hearing of the voices and needs of indigenous communities. The study seeded many ideas among both communities, where Malaysian indigenous peoples were very excited to learn about the local and State government representation by and for Indigenous people in Costa Rica, this has galvanised their awareness of how national policies can be influenced and shaped. The socio-economic viability of Indigenous lifestyles was also affirmed in these encounters, with some very useful examples of Indigenous agrarian cultivation was identified with regards to food crops and pharmaceutical crops.