Regenerating land and culture through Indigenous leadership 


During a forest walk and reflection activity with community youth where they learn about 
the cultural and spiritual value of waterfalls. Photo by Celine Murillo

For most of my adult life, I’ve been working with Indigenous upland communities in Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines located in the country’s south. My background in education became instrumental when I worked with community volunteer teachers to develop a culture-based curriculum for Indigenous youth that celebrates their culture and puts the protection of their ancestral land at the heart of their education.

Some of our “Salumayag youth” showing off their outputs for the herbarium – one of the ways we are teaching youth  about native trees

I also had the opportunity to work with Indigenous foresters and organic farmers who are striving to pave a more sustainable way forward amidst the many threats to their landscape and to their traditional values, brought about by extractivist industries that exploit the marginalized. 

Land conversion to expand commercial farming cleared portions of the forest closest to community centers. Photo by Celine Murillo

My work over the last 10 years has strengthened my passion for supporting community-based natural resource management efforts. In doing this, I have been fortunate to collaborate with small-scale farmers, Indigenous youth, and women leaders who believe in a vision for a just future for all. 

After becoming part of various initiatives related to environmental education, forest and water regeneration projects, and ecology networks, I co-founded Salumayag Youth Collective for Forests with Indigenous youth leaders from the Manobo-Kulamanen tribe in Quezon, Bukidnon, Mindanao back in 2022. Our mission was to develop a truly youth- and women-led initiative to highlight the voices of Indigenous and local leaders in regeneration efforts.

Hence, we created Salumayag, an Indigenous youth and women-led initiative that empowers upland communities in the management of their ancestral domain through regenerative practices and narratives. 

Salumayag is named after the salumayag tree (Agathis philippinensis), which produces a resin that is used for lighting in the Manobo-Kulamanen culture. Local people also believe that the salumayag is home to Magumanuy, the spirit that watches over the mountains.

Our work in Salumayag is also a response to calls from Indigenous and local women for collaborations to address ecological and economic concerns in their communities.  We are partnering with local partners, youth leaders, and Indigenous women leaders in our forest and water regeneration efforts. 

A dialogue with women about their role and leadership in forest and water regeneration

During one of our first dialogues, our youth partners expressed their vision – to bring the forest closer to where they live. Because of the region’s history of logging and the current impacts of expansive corporate-controlled agriculture, many of the surrounding landscapes closest to community centers have been degraded. For Indigenous Peoples, the destruction of their ancestral lands also leaves deep wounds not only in their culture and values but also to their community spirit. 

Community launch of our second native tree nursery – a ritual to bless the seedlings and crops to be planted was also held with the Tribal Elders 

As such, the regeneration we are trying to achieve through Salumayag is one that looks at landscape restoration holistically – one that considers the spiritual importance of forests and rivers and recognizes that we need to teach young people about its value. Another way we are trying to amplify our work in the field is by creating impactful community stories so that other people can also see our vision and hopefully be inspired to join us in realizing it.

Seedlings and seed collection during a guided forest walk activity with the youth

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