The first day of the Indigenous Terra Madre 2015(ITM), Shillong kicked off at the Convocation Hall of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU). The inauguration witnessed a total of 640 delegates belonging to 140 communities that have gathered here for the five-day event. The attendance was in their traditional fine attire adding to the colourful mileu of the event that has representatives from 58 countries .
The ceremony officially began with Phrang Roy, chairman– NESFAS and coordinator – The Indigenous Partnership welcoming all those gathered and sharing the message of ITM with all. Roy said, “We are here to learn from each other, to collectively interpret the future we want”. This was followed by the Hima (chief) Khyrm’s welcome speech, who is the traditional Khasi community elder, where he invited the blessings of the land for the festival and the crops. He then invited representatives from all seven continents onto the stage and honoured them, along with Roy. The next highlight was a video message from His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales. Stating how necessary it is to change the current global food situation, he urged that we look to ‘indigenous wisdom’ and ‘develop an approach that acts globally, but thinks locally’.
Roy then invited on stage Krishna Srivastava, the vice chancellor of NEHU who welcomed the delegates not only to the venue, but to Shillong and India as well. This was followed by the keynote address by American activist from the Anishinaabe tribe, Winona La Duke, who stressed on preserving food-based traditions and looking towards indigenous people to share their knowledge, reiterating that food is sacred, it is part of who we are genetically and spiritually. She recounted how the seeds of squash, lasting 800 years, were discovered in an archaeological dig and are now being cultivated by her community. She especially asserted the effects of big corporations and climate change on traditional ways of life and urged all to ‘live in peace but to fight pipelines that affect our wild rice’.
The cultural aspect of the afternoon began with a live vocal and instrumental performance of the ITM theme song ‘Ko Mei-Ramew’, after an introduction to the song by Roy, which was well-received by the audience. Next, was the unveiling of the coffee table book ‘Meghalaya: Sifting Through the Clouds’ by the chief minister Dr. Sangma and Roy. The CM stressed on the importance of making living rural areas remunerative and this would only be if “indigenous people conserved their traditions and ways of life.
The next session was the airing of a video message by MS Swaminathan, leading Indian geneticist, who talked about the development and conservation of agro-biodiversity. He supported the claim that “indigenous people should be rewarded for their contributions”.
One of the last speakers was Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food International. Petrini made an impassioned case for “every government to take decisions”. He lamented that “food has lost its value, becoming just a commodity; we are losing our histories and food heritage. Only a return to local economies will change the paradigm of the current food systems,”. He also argued that we must not only talk but act. The last speaker, Jose Andreas, an indigenous chef from North America, brought the message home simply – “we must stop throwing money at the problem… we must begin to listen to the experts- the indigenous people”.
In the next four days, there will be a two-day closed door conference, taste workshops, and also ITM on Campus for the citizens of Shillong.