ICRA International is a movement of solidarity with indigenous peoples. It is apolitical, non-confessional and totally independent.
The idea of creating ICRA started in a distant land, the north-east of India, long designated as a restricted area by the Indian government fighting against indigenous guerilla groups demanding an autonomous status since the end of the British Empire. Gandhi was willing to grant it but his murder spelled the end of Naga expectations. Beautiful and fascinating, these people look very much like American Indians. Anthropologist Patrick Bernard met Visier Sanyu there in the mid-eighties. “My friend Visier was a Naga ethnologist, probably the only Naga ethnologist to have ever worked on Naga issues. I owe it to him to have been allowed to visit these prohibited areas. During one of our conversations he said this: “The associations that defend our rights send their anthropologists to investigate, but when they find themselves in prohibited areas, the information doesn’t get through. What we need is an ongoing commission of inquiry where the informers are the natives themselves.” That’s how ICRA was born.
Primarily an association for the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, ICRA organizes awareness-raising and lobbying campaigns targeting governments and transnational companies which do not respect the individual and collective rights of indigenous communities asking for the right to live a different sort of life in dignity, the respect of their social organizations and symbolic systems, an end to the invasion of their territories by settlers and to the uncontrolled exploitation of the resources on their lands with which they have been living in harmony since the dawn of time. This is put into practice with the help of a network of indigenous contacts, representatives of native peoples around the world, who constitute the informers and key witnesses of the association, not forgetting the volunteers in Europe who organize these awareness and advocacy campaigns, and the long-distance travelers who pay regular visits to some of the communities.
After a few years, in the early 1990s, some of our indigenous correspondents asked for our help in the nutritional, educational, health and cultural fields. It is not easy to defend your political rights when your community is in a state of dependency or suffering from a food crisis, or when a process of acculturation destabilizes the community’s very structure. Besides, a number of programs, which had been organized in a hurry, particularly among the Tuareg of northern Mali, were delayed precisely because they came from ICRA: our organization had been very critical of the Malian government’s actions in those years.
In these circumstances, a decision was made in 1993 by ICRA’s organizers and our key indigenous representatives to set up two departments, which were given a status under the association act of 1901 but were affiliated to ICRA by a charter and by their internal rules.
• With Akassa (renewal in the Tamasheq language), we implement, with the help of indigenous populations and only at their behest, support programs for nutritional, educational, medical and health self-sufficiency. These programs are managed by the local populations and aim at a greater autonomy of the communities, so as to allow them to maintain their original lifestyle and develop at their own chosen pace. The first Akassa programs started at the end of 1993 in Mali among Tuareg pastoralists, in Ladakh among the Tibetan refugees, and, in Thailand, along the Burmese border among Karen and Karenni refugees.
• FMCA’s (World Fund for the preservation of indigenous cultures) aim is to support programs initiated by indigenous communities for the inventory, conservation and promotion of indigenous heritage and culture, and encourage the transmission of their cultural heritage, languages and oral traditions. These programs must also serve as a hub for the knowledge and conservation of humanity’s cultural heritage and contribute towards a renewal of the dialogue between civilizations. The first FMCA program was started in Vietnam with the implementation of vernacular language classes for children and adults among the highlands Edê, and with the work done by several members of these tribes on the collection and transcription of oral literature, tales, legends, myths, etc.
With this departmentalization, ICRA was able to create a three-headed humanism which gives back to people every one of their dimensions, the right to a personal identity being inevitably connected with respect for life and culture, the latter an essential component of the survival of indigenous thinking.
What is more, the creation of these departments allowed us to give a clearer definition of our goals and relate them to a coherent framework, bringing out the best in everyone and avoiding any ambiguity or confusion in our relationships with governments and international bodies.
Our primary goal is to always be attentive to the needs of the communities in the fields of human rights, culture and lifestyle, and also to do our best so the communities do not have to fall back on emergency humanitarian aid, which all too often leads to dependency or to solutions that prove to be inadequate in the long term.
Over the last 30 years, many Akassa and FMCA field programs have been implemented in Africa, Asia and Latin America, among various indigenous communities, some sedentary, others nomadic, and yet others refugees, but always at the behest of, and managed by, the communities. Although modest in financial terms, these programs have allowed the communities concerned to maintain a much-needed autonomy as well as, to some extent, their lifestyle and ancestral culture, where the native tongue plays a central part.