Earth, Exploitation and Survival: Dimensions of Indigenous Identity for Montagnard, Mapuche and Batwa People

Project location: WORLDWIDE, Vietnam, Chile, Rwanda
Project start date: October 2010 - Project end date: October 2012
Project number: 2010-61
Beneficiary: UNPO


Through the project funded by the Nando Peretti Foundation, UNPO has been working with the Degar-Montagnard diaspora on cultural preservation as well as youth leadership. The Degar-Montagnard diaspora plays an important leadership role in raising Montagnard issues, preserving the unique indigenous language and culture of the Degar-Montagnard people and teaching about Degar-Montagnard culture worldwide. Based in North Carolina, this diaspora has a large and active youth group that seeks to be more engaged in international conversations regarding Vietnam’s indigenous populations.

PHASE I - October 2010- January 2011 

In this first phase UNPO has been working to organize the first visit to the Montagnard communities in the US scheduled for the last week of February and first week of March 2011. The visit starts off the first evidence, and storytelling section of the project where the young local leaders will decide and direct the content of the website that will be devoted to documenting their stories, and those of their parents, relatives and friends. Background work related to the website and technical elements of the Degar (Montagnard) project has also commenced.


PHASE II- February- May 2011

This phase of the project involved a visit to the United States by UNPO Program staff for the following events:

1.       UNPO Degar-Montagnard Training and Cultural Project (Greensboro, North Carolina)

2.       UNPO-Degar-Montagnard Youth visit to UNPFII (New York, NY)


NC Training

A UNPO staff member traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina to provide further training to the Degar-Montagnard youth and to assist in further developing the website portion of the cultural project. Degar-Montagnard Youth traveled from various communities in North Carolina to participate in the sessions, which included the following items and tasks:


·         Introduction to the “Degar-Montagnard Culture” website that was developed using their input and ideas, collected during a previous UNPO visit

·         Selection of moderators for the website

·         UNPO-led strategy session to further develop ideas about how the website could best be used to preserve their cultural knowledge and sustain the engagement of the youth.

·         Presentation of cultural-research progress reports by the Degar-Montagnard youth participants

·         Group discussion: sharing frustrations and difficulties in gathering information and materials for the project

·         Troubleshooting problems as a group


This UNPO visit also laid the groundwork for next year’s activities at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). During the training in North Carolina, the Youth were introduced to the UNPFII. The following topics were covered during this session:


·         History and development of this mechanism

·         Effective interaction with the PFII


New York: UNPFII Visit

Following the training in North Carolina, the UNPO staff member traveled to New York with three Degar-Montagnard youth representatives in order to attend the 10th Session of the UNPFII. While at the UNPFII, the youth attended various events showcasing the cultures of other indigenous peoples, and began planning for their own event showcasing the Degar-Montagnard culture video project at the 11th Session in 2012.

New York: Peer-to-Peer Youth Training

An additional training was held in New York between the Degar-Montagnard youth and the youth of the Khmer Krom, another indigenous community from Vietnam. The Khmer Krom youth have a very well organized and highly-motivated youth group (KKFYG), and during this peer-to-peer training they introduced the Degar-Montagnard youth to the following topics:


·         Structure of the KKFYG

·         How the KKF organization as a whole motivates their youth to participate

·         Opportunities the KKF provides youth to participate in cultural preservation activities


This training was highly valuable for the success and sustainability of the Degar-Montagnard cultural project, which depends upon the active and sustained involvement of the Degar-Montagnard youth.

PHASE III - June- November 2011


Under the third phase of the Peretti project, UNPO is bringing three Degar-Montagnard youth leaders to Geneva for an important training session in parallel to the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues. This training also allows the Montagnard youth to work with other youth leaders from indigenous communities both within and outside of Vietnam. Expanding upon previous trainings in North Carolina and New York, this phase of the project provides the Degar-Montagnard youth leaders with training on cultural preservation and interaction with important international forums. The Degar-Montagnard youth leaders receive training from UNPO on effective at the United Nations in Geneva, and participate directly in the UN Forum on Minority Issues. This allows experienced UNPO staff to introduce the youth to the United Nations in Geneva, bringing them into direct contact with the institutions which they are being trained to interact with under the continued guidance of UNPO while continuing to provide them with targeted training and interactive cultural opportunities.

The Forum on Minority Issues represents a valuable opportunity for the Degar-Montagnard youth to put their training immediately into action under the guidance of trained UNPO staff. The youth leaders are drafting a statement with the assistance of UNPO, and delivering this statement to a Forum of over 500 participants. Through the Forum the youth leaders also have a tremendous opportunity to come into close contact with other indigenous and minority representatives, and build a support network for the work they are learning to do through this project. These lessons will feed into the screening of a Degar-Montagnard feature documentary at the 2012 UNPFII planned for a later phase of the EES project.

PHASE IV-  December 2011-May 2012

Indigenous Language Survival and Revitalization Workshop: Film, Radio, Web, and Growing Speakers from the Grassroots – Tools for the next 500 Years

On Tuesday, May 15, 2012, at the 11th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, Cultural Survival, Living Tongues Institute, National Museum of the American Indian Film and Video Center, and Underrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) Montagnyard Youth Project are organizing a side-event on language revitalization tools. Join us.

Successful language revitalization efforts yielding fluent speakers to pass threatened languages on to future generations requires buy-in from Indigenous youth, who are often immersed daily in colonial languages courtesy of mainstream media and formal schooling. How do we inspire young people to become active learners and speakers of our ancient heritage languages? How can you mentor youth and foster language education and ceremonial opportunities in your own community? Join us for success stories from Indigenous communities recruiting & training “language bearers,” “language apprentices,” “language warriors,” and on-air DJ’s. Through community-produced film and web projects, and volunteer-run radio programming, our future leaders are embracing Indigenous languages, and the challenges of seeking out and maintaining the invaluable cultural, environmental, spiritual, and values-based knowledge embodied by our mother tongues.

Cross-Lingual Tribal Connections in North Carolina: Jarai, Rhade Tribal Youth meet with Cultural Survival

March 29, 2012

Endangered Languages Program Manager Jennifer Weston and Tracy Kelley, Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project apprentice hosted a workshop on Indigenous language revitalization projects with more than seventy tribal youth at the Montagnard Pinecroft Learning Center and Church in Greensboro, North Carolina.  The high school students are part of an active refugee community numbering more than 4,000, and all speak one or more Indigenous languages originating in the central highlands of Vietnam.

“We were invited by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization based in The Hague to meet with the Greensboro tribal youth group about film, web, and language revitalization projects they can implement locally through their youth and community associations. The students were really eager to learn about Indigenous cultures and languages, so we used and a series of film clips to explore Indian Country’s diversity – with a special focus on master-apprentice and other language immersion programs like the Euchee, Sauk, and Wampanoag,” said Weston.”


The youth have been working with UNPO and Greensboro youth coordinator Yiu Ksor to build a webpage showcasing their rich cultural heritage, but also face daily challenges to tribal language use in an English-dominant society.  Workshop sessions focused on developing interview questions based on those featured on, selecting interview subjects, brainstorming graphics based on cultural symbolism, and fostering multigenerational empowerment in tribal communities impacted by displacement, land takings, and language oppression.  All participants received a bound copy of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and learned about Cultural Survival’s work to implement the international human rights instrument.

“We wanted them to experience the pride our tribal youth are feeling for our languages today, and to see and touch examples of our traditional arts that we continue to create for contemporary and ceremonial contexts.  We started the day with mutual goals to learn about one another’s tribal languages and cultures, and to think through the web content development process – generating interview questions for the stories you want to tell online, and then visualizing the graphic presentation and brainstorming iconic imagery that encompasses cultural values,” said Weston.  “For example, we talked about the significance of the loon and water birds for the Alutiiq and other island and coastal Indigenous peoples in the U.S., and looked at traditional and contemporary uses of feathers in tribal regalia, ceremonies, and dances.  I also shared with them the significance of the morning star in Lakota culture and spirituality, and passed around beadwork and quilted examples of how this symbol of knowledge, first light, and wisdom, appears repeatedly in our traditional arts.”

Kelley, who works full time as a Wampanoag language apprentice in a two-year language acquisition and curriculum development project funded by the Administration for Native Americans, walked participants through a typical day, week, and quarter as a committed language learner and teacher working with all age groups. “I had an inspirational day centered around culture/language survival, and I always get my love of language rejuvenated with days like these. I felt a strong sense of solidarity with the Indigenous people I met and was glad I could offer any help I could regarding language revitalization,” she said.

“It’s really hard to learn different languages but it’s really fun, and it brings me happiness, so I whatever I have learned I must keep it,” wrote one workshop participant at the end of the day, which opened and closed with prayers in Indigenous languages.

“Today I’ve learned that it is important to know and keep up with your own language so that you can keep passing [it on] and teaching it to your next generations to come,” wrote Chao Kpa. “When we learn our own language it’s pretty amazing,” wrote another participant.  “We can still speak the [English] language that we have learned, but let’s not forget about our own language. Someday our native language can pass to our children and their children as generations continue.” “Today I learned that we have to think about our history for the future generations… as we keep searching and looking to refresh our mother language to let the world know who we are on this earth.  I was learning with great heart today, feeling our cultures and languages. ” “Thank you for coming and spending your time to teach us. I am so thankful for what you did. I learned how important it is, and how brave those people are to stand firm.  Thank you!” “I learned we can maintain and learn our language through community, and by helping each other out in simple ways.  We should never let our language go away.”

DVD production

The final production of the DVD has started. With many activities and interviews already collected and edited the DVD will be finalised and distributed within a short period of time. The production will be a great aid in assuring the survival of the culture and language of the Montagnard.


PHASE V (final): June – October 2012

DVD production

The main part of the final phase of the project on the Montagnard-Degar people involved producing, distributing and displaying the feature film on the situation of the Montagnard-Degar people. In collaboration between UNPO, the filmmakers and Montagnard-Degar community leaders it was decided which video items to include in the final DVD-film. The objective was to provide a broad overview of the various aspects of Montagnard-Degar culture in the highlands of Vietnam, both in the past and the present. Thereby the film provides a unique perspective on the various aspects of Montagnard-Degar culture which combines christianity with ancestral traditions. The production will be a great aid in assuring the survival of the culture and language of the Montagnard-Degar people.

Contacts have also been made with the Movies that Matter film festival supported by Amnesty International and established movie theaters in order to have the film shown in selected movie theaters. The DVD was also distributed to a selected database of people and organisations who have shown interest in the Montagnard-Degar culture and related activities.

Furthermore, in addition to the website tools already produced in the previous part of the project the website was established in order to function as a showcase to the world on the multimedia activities undertaken by the Montagnard-Degar community. It also offers Montagnard-Degar youths inspiration and easy access to the various tools at their disposal to collaboratively work on creating more multimedia products.
think global, act local
you are here: Home  > Projects:  Charity or Worldwide  (or Both)  > 2010-61  > Final Report Degar-Montagnard