Community & Environment

Conceptualizing Our Cultures and the Environment We Live In

Articulated by M. Mutraw for BCCE


We come from the cultures that teach us to coexist harmoniously with our environment, the mother earth. The way of preservation and protection of our environment and the mother earth would be varied. But, each culture in Burma generally plays very important role in passing on the knowledge and responsibility of caring for our mother earth and the environment we live in. This is still true even while the ruling military regime in Burma has continuously engaged in destruction of environment on all fronts. For us, to safeguard ecological and cultural diversity also means preserving and protecting our identity.(i) That simple fact alone is what draws our commitment to the environmental protection wherever we are.

For the Karen, there is no separation between the natural environment and the people. The Karen people do not see the natural environment a “wilderness,” but rather a home, integrated with daily life. Their calendar is based on signs from nature – the call of a bird or frog or the arrival of insects. Their relationship with nature is also deeply linked to spirituality, and so many cultural taboos have contributed to environmental preservation.(ii) Kachin State has the world’s largest tiger conservation area. The world’s conservationists recognize that the traditional livelihoods of local peoples in Kachin State have helped sustain the nature in the valley. These are a few examples to mention.

That said, when we think about engaging the Burmese community in greater Indianapolis community, we think about how a small community as ours could significantly participate. Of all the many wonderful activities, we believe choosing what is most relevant to our cultures would be best for the small community to play a significant role. Through small activities and educational program on environmental conservation, not only that our community will be participating in the mainstream’s progressive movement, but also will we be reconnecting with our cultural roots.

At BCCE, we understand that majority of members of Burmese community in Indianapolis came to the United States after having stayed in the refugee camps in Thailand for so many years. For several decades, this population was effectively disconnected from their cultural roots and disabled to practice their traditional and cultural beliefs. Especially the young members of our community were born and raised in the refugee camps. Though they may have tried to preserve, it is undeniable that this is a lost generation that is rediscovering itself.

Now that we live in a free society, in a country where we are encouraged to preserve and promote our cultural diversity, we believe that designing educational programs that would allow our people to reconnect with their cultural roots is most appropriate. Informal educational programs designed to re-engage our people with their cultural inheritance is, we believe, one of the most effective methods for empowerment.


Accessible Alternatives: Ethnic Communities’ Contribution to Social Development and Environmental Conservation in Burma, (http://www.bewg.org/pubs/finish/1/2).
Environmental Protection, Indigenous Knowledge and Livelihood in Karen State: A Focus on Community Conserved Areas (http://www.bewg.org/aa/47-kesan/64-aa-kesan1).