According to the World Wildlife Fund, “although they comprise less than 5% of the world population, Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity in the forests, deserts, grasslands, and marine environments in which they have lived for centuries." But despite this, as the Guardian reported in 2020, “many Indigenous communities – especially those in isolated regions – [also] continue to face threats like disease outbreaks, poverty, environmental injustices and human rights violations. Some rural populations may even be facing extinction.” This dynamic is true of the Subanen people, an Indigenous community who live on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.
The Columban Fathers and the Columban Sisters have lived in solidarity with many of the indigenous communities of the Philippines for several decades now. And they’ve been living alongside the Subanen community since 1983. Our relationship with them has taught us that the unjust exploitation of the natural world and of indigenous communities has historically, and to this very day, gone hand-in-hand. If the global community wants to better care for creation, we have to first listen to the wisdom of Indigenous traditions and center their experience and expertise in the conversation about solutions. In the words of Columban Fr. Vinnie Busch, “the Subanens regard their habitat as a sacred community to be cherished, not as a collection of resources to be exploited. They celebrate the sacred dimension of their habitat in their rituals, stories, music, and dance. [They] and other indigenous peoples can guide our faith communities to live in an enhancing way within the Earth community.”