Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development Conference in India -- Some thoughts & Photos

Our recent trip to India centered on attending the First Annual International Conference on Society, Technology & Sustainable Development with the focal theme being: Indigenous practices, Technology & Policies, see conference information Here. UB’s School of Social Work’s Buffalo Center for Social Research has had a research partnership with Amrita University’s social work department for a couple years. After some considerations between the partners, having an informative conference in India focusing on sustainable development using indigenous knowledge was prioritized. The partners worked together for several months which resulted in a very nice conference.

The traveling UB group consisted of social work department folks such as PhD students (Shraddha & Amy), student field placement (Laura) and recruitment representatives (Kathy), stats expert (Gene), center Director (Catherine) and me.    




After about 30 or so hours of planes, trains and automobiles, we arrived in Cochin India. Just like the first time I travelled to India, outside of the airport was very crowded. It is somewhat overwhleming to step into this crowd after several hours awake. 

This is the typical crowd outside of the airport waiting on folks

We were whisked off to our hotel, which is just delightful after surviving our long trek.
Looking out hotel window into pool area

Because we arrived in India during the morning hours, it was very important to remain awake and adjust to the local time. After a quick breakfast a group of us decided to get out of the hotel, where our comfortable beds were located, and do something other than sleep. There are boats in India that take folks around a local waterway and they also puts on a feast. Of course it takes about 1 hour by car to get there, which is like being on a scary carnival ride. I still have a major case of PTSD as the result of a short car ride in India.

The boat ride was very nice. There are many boats on the water and lots to see. Although there were a few hard rains, relaxing on the boat, looking at the sites, and learning about the community was well worth the price, which was about $50 US dollars.
Some men playing cricket
They feed us about mid way through the ride
There are a few school around the water, the kids were let out and on their way home

Water bus I guess?
The ride last for about 4 hours and the crew were great. Towards the end of the trip we all could have slept in our chairs. However, the hour car trip home seemed to wake me right up!
The next day was the first day of the three day conference located at AIMS Hospital. It began with much fanfare. The local health representatives were present along with the hospital dignitaries and the press.  I was asked to speak on indigenous issues in the US. Trying to narrow my focus, I asked our India contact about what local folks know about US indigenous matters. My contact stated that it is important to inform folks about the history of America’s indigenous history and issues.

Still not sure what specifically I would speak about, I made sure to inform the attendees that Christopher Columbus did not discover America. As all know, just because it might be someone’s first time visiting a location does not equal first discovery.  Since the conference was about sustainable development using indigenous knowledge, I thought I would speak a little about three indigenous ideas. The three I spoke about where, working with the thoughts and concerns of the next seven generations, working with one good mind, and working together such as the three sisters design. This provided an opportunity to connect sustainable development issues with indigenous knowledge principles. I won't go into it here, but happy to expand on those three topics at a later date.

Afterwards, there was an opportunity for questions from the audience. There was a young lady from Australia who indicated that her country has the same misinformation about who discovered it. As we all know, or should know, that large country has an indigenous population that is very different from Australians. She indicated that she is working with and trying to research the indigenous population and having trouble with that population trusting her. She asked what she could do to get better relations. My first suggestion was cash! My second was these things take time. It seems once indigenous communities say yes to outsiders, such as researchers, they begin to lose their power. The best way indigenous populations can hang onto power, is to say No.

The overall conference was very informative. The folks who attended and everyone connected with the conference were very welcoming and supportive.  I have always experienced India and the people as very generous and interested in American issues. Because we are around mostly academic people, they are very curious while remaining courteous. The issues related to sustainable development in India are similar to issues in American and the rest of the world. There are problems with housing, water, food, health, etc. I was happy NOT to see an American present something with all the answers. Having attended some other international conferences, I cringe when I see the American idea as the best and only way of doing things.

There is already a second annual conference being planned and should happen about the same time next year in India. It is a worthy conference and the topic is timely. For anyone who has never been to India and interested in visiting, this conference would be a great reason to go. There are many opportunities and possibilities.

There are a few hundred pics from the trip. I would like to thank Amy who took and shared all of these great photos of our trip. Unfortunately, I could not include all of the pics here. Just down loading these took way too long! Anyone interested in seeing more, please let me know.
Peace DAP 

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