Visit with the Kalinga People in the Village of Guinaang, 2004
The story of Guinaang is related here to illustrate the spiritual journey Thelma took from the Inupiat village of Point Hope in the high Arctic of Alaska, to the Kalinga mountain tribal village of Guinaang, north and east of the Banaue Rice Terraces, Luzon Island, Philippines.
As a girl in Claveria, Thelma became offended when she observed the racist treatment accorded to mountain tribal people when they came down from the mountains to trade in Claveria.
Thelma’s father, Eugenio Garcia, was of mountain tribal heritage, with distinctly Negrito features, and she observed that her townspeople would sometimes disparage him for that, and she resented it.
Thelma arrived in Alaska at a time when the Alaska Native land claims movement was just gathering strength, and she and her husband, Jon, became involved as advocates of the land claims movement when it was still politically dangerous to champion the land claims of Alaska’s Native people. She compared urban Alaska’s racist history toward Alaska’s Indians and Eskimos with the racism meted out against the mountain tribespeople visiting Claveria, and against her dark-skinned father.
When Thelma was elected President of the Anchorage Filipino Community in 1971, she was the first woman to hold that office, and she inherited the responsibility for conducting the annual Founder’s Day banquet, at which traditionally the Community featured Filipino folk dancing. There had never been any mountain tribal dancing at these annual banquets. So Thelma set out to remedy that, and she began insisting that Igorot tribal dances be included in all Anchorage Filipino Community dance performances.
“Igorot” is a word used to generally describe the indigenous culture and people of the mountain provinces. When used by the Filipino lowlanders, it is a term of denigration, used not unlike the “n” word in America.
So, Thelma began collecting traditional Igorot tribal costumes and drums, and gongs and other indigenous cultural artifacts, and she began training young Filipino dancers to perform Igorot dances at the annual banquets. In time, several mountain tribal families moved to Anchorage, and Thelma organized them into a dance troupe that performed in schools and at the State Fair.
One day, Thelma met a dynamic woman, Juliet Omli-Cawas Cheatle, a leader of BIBAK Northwest, a regional organization of Philippine mountain tribal people residing in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia. Juliet Cheatle was originally from Lubuagan, Kalinga, and she had an active tribal dance group in northern Washington.
Cheatle and Thelma began collaborating, and Thelma invited Cheatle and her group to perform in Anchorage.
Thelma and Juliet Cheatle recruited Juliet’s sister, Betty Ordono, a civil servant working in Baguio, to organize a dance group made up of Kalinga students attending college in Baguio. They made a plan for the students to travel from Baguio to Claveria to perform for Thelma’s hometown, Claveria, where Igorots still suffered from racial discrimination, though not as badly as when Thelma was a girl.
The Kalinga students would arrive in Claveria from Baguio at the same time Thelma would arrive after visiting Guinaang with her son, Christopher, his wife, Julia, and her daughter, Titania. Thelma arranged for all the travel involved, and arranged for the use of Claveria’s gymnasium for the Kalinga dance performance.
And so it came to pass. The annotated photographs below tell the story, presented here as an example of Thelma Garcia Buchholdt’s cultural leadership, and commitment to the mountain people of the Philippines.
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