On May 27th, the GEF Small Grants Programme participated in a Joint Side Event organized by the GEF Secretariat on Indigenous People at the 5th GEF Assembly in Cancun, Mexico. At the event, SGP presented an Indigenous Fashion Show featuring a project that protects biodiversity through the recovery of traditional knowledge on Natural Dyes.
The side event started with a blessing in Mayan from the SGP grantee, after which, Ms. Yoko Watanabe, Senior Biodiversity Specialist at the GEF Secretariat introduced the session and the speakers. Mr. Gustavo Fonseca, Head of Natural Resources team at the GEF Secretariat, explained the importance of the engagement of GEF with Indigenous Peoples. He was followed by Ms. Lucy Mulenkei, Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group of the GEF, who presented the work accomplished by IPAG. Ms. Kristen Walker, Vice President for Social Policy and Practice at Conservation International (CI) presented the guidelines developed by her organization on FPIC (Free Prior and Informed Consent).
Following the presentations, Mr. Delfin Ganapin, Global Manager of the GEF Small Grants Programme, introduced the Fashion show and emphasized the importance that SGP places on supporting indigenous peoples as well as women empowerment. The Mayan models, most of whom were university students at Felipe Carillo Puerto, presented three sets of attire: day dresses, night dresses and traditional festive Mayan dresses. In between the segments, Ms. Sarah Wyatt from the GEF Secretariat provided the audience with more information on how the Mayan community recovered traditional knowledge on ecological dyeing practices. She also explained how the project promotes entrepreneurship among indigenous women through the production of natural dyed fabrics and clothing.
The fashion show was put together by the women involved in the project, with the help of the Superior Institute of Technology at Felipe Carrillo Puerto (ISTFCP,) to present the results of their project and raise public awareness of indigenous culture and biodiversity conservation. The models, who came from Mayan communities in the area, proudly showed the apparel that had been colored with natural dyes from an SGP-supported project in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico.
In the quest of recovering the ancient traditional craft of using natural dyes, which had become lost during colonial times, the Mayan communities worked to recover the traditional knowledge of using native plants for fabric dying processes. Given the lack of records and local expertise, the initiative first started to gather traditional knowledge from indigenous peoples in three states: Quintana Roo, Chiapas and Oaxaca; where vegetable dyes were commercially used. This investigation led to re-discovering the art of natural dyeing, its techniques and types of plants needed for this process.
Further research was then conducted with the support of the Superior Institute of Technology at Felipe Carrillo Puerto (ISTFCP), which examined other parts of the plants conducive for dyeing. The findings were first tested for fabric treatment, extraction and application of vegetable dyes, by eight women from the community and two students from the ISTFCP before sharing the findings with ten communities for further field-testing.
The communities organized their findings according to plant classification, type of pigments produced and type of fabrics to use. This process has led to increased awareness about native plant species and a greater appreciation of biodiversity among the communities. The project has also enabled the communities to use resources native to their land and build local women's capacities to create micro-enterprises around natural dyes.
Speaking at the fashion show, Dr. Naoko Ishii, the CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), praised the project and enthusiastically described this event as "likely to be the most lively event throughout the Council and Assembly".
Dr. Ishii was then honored with a special present from the Mayan project: a beautiful two piece clothing set dyed with natural colours. Dr. Ishii also later praised the event for showing the way for the socio-economic empowerment of women by generating sustainable livelihoods for communities.