The CBIK delegate to the conference reported that the focus was on performance arts and items such as photographs and museum artifacts that China is quickly losing because the country is changing so fast.
Government and CBIK staff have discussed how to identify who lived in the land first, or who is "indigenous." Should those living in an area for a hundred years or more have a stronger claim?
Enlarging the meaning of indigenous to include Han may provide a way for CBIK to get beyond the limitations of an "ethnic" focus and to concentrate on issues of legal land rights.
As for Mengsong, the Akha settlement is not only my own long-term research site but also one of CBIK's permanent targets of activity, a site inherited from KIB.
CBIK researchers are "speaking for" Mengsong Akha as bearers of indigenous knowledge that protects biodiversity, but the scope for using that knowledge is already largely gone.
As for the first question, who defines indigenous and toward what ends, there are multiple sources in China, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which came up with a statement to keep UN inspectors on indigenous rights out of China; CBIK, a domestic NGO that emerged to promote the "indigenous knowledge" of minority nationalities in China, but that may be heading toward including Han "indigenous knowledge" as well; and the Ministry of Culture, which is exploring ways to safeguard intangible culture, an inquiry that may raise new possibilities for what indigenous knowledge means, both nationally and in Yunnan.
Since 1995, CBIK activities to capture cultural traditions, however, have revitalized Akha interest in their own festivals and performances.
In the years since 1998, that focus on biodiversity has backfired, at least from a CBIK perspective: the rise in "biodiversity" as a globally important resource, together with the plummeting of upland farmers' reputations in China, have caused government agencies to reclaim lands of high biodiversity, a treasure too precious to be left in farmers' hands.
For the moment, drawing on the toolkit of neoliberalism, which supports strong property rights and devolution of political economic power to localities, may be a more productive stance for a domestic NGO like CBIK. Whether for minority nationality or Han farmers, the key livelihood issue may not be preserving "indigenous knowledge," but holding onto land.
Li Bo, Li Bo (CBIK program director, who attended Ministry of Culture Conference on Safeguarding Intangible Culture), personal communication with author, February 2006.
Zhinan Li, "Sustainable Agriculture for Livelihood Development in Uplands of Yunnan," CBIK Working Paper www.cbik.org/cbik-en/index
For more information see CBIK website, cbik.org/cbik-en/index