Centering local wisdom & Indigenous voices: Tala Bautista shares her vision with SAS+

December 4, 2023
Author: Jasmine Kato-Naughton, Tala Bautista

The SAS+ Advisory Group provides advice on and support for influencing efforts for SAS+. They lend their specific expertise and extensive experience to strengthen SAS+ and ensure it incorporates a myriad of perspectives. Since they are so integral to our work, we want to share their valuable knowledge with you. 

Tala Bautista is a member of the SAS+ Advisory Group, Senior Vice President of Coffee for Peace, and Director of Partnership Development with Peacebuilders Community. She is an Indigenous person from the Sumacher tribe in Kalinga, Philippines, and a coffee farmer. 


Tala’s journey into peacebuilding began when she was just five years old.

“There was this huge […] probably a [volcanic] eruption. We were watching the news and I saw a soldier picking up a little boy. It was very muddy. The little boy was buried in the mud. He picked up the boy and was giving [him] to a nun. And for some reason that image stuck.”

Tala felt that she wanted to become that nun when she grew up. Later, she had a realisation – that “it was not being a nun, it was more that I wanted to serve God, by serving people. And that never changed.”

In school, Tala grappled with themes around God and Indigenous people in the Bible, all the while carrying her personal and secondary experiences of discrimination against Indigenous people in her community. When she was 15, Tala was introduced to a framework:

“There was someone from an organization that presented a good explanation for why we are experiencing these things. It made so much sense […] I still borrow from that framework.”

The ‘triangle framework’ represents a situation where 90% of the population owns 10% of total wealth.

“And she was saying that, you know, we have to make this triangle into a square. It makes sense. Especially for a 15-year-old: of course, who wouldn’t want an equal distribution of wealth, right? And I kept on asking, so how do we do this? […] Until finally she told me, it can only happen through armed revolution.” 

Indigenous people in Kalinga have three core values: paniyaw, ngilin, and ba-in. Paniyaw is a value that governs one’s relationship with the creator.

“One of the paniyaw says, we cannot kill a person whom we have eaten with, because the spiritual world will punish us, will take revenge for that person.” 

While at school, Tala had several classmates who were from families that are part of the wealthiest 1%. She would eat with them at their school cafeteria. Reflecting on what she heard about the triangle framework, she says: “If it’s an armed revolution and I have to kill, then I’d have to kill her. And I can’t, because our values say we cannot do that. And so I said no, I won’t join that.” 

Following this experience, Tala continued to look for ways to change local realities without resorting to violence. She was drawn to PeaceBuilders Community and Coffee for Peace because of the way they align with her core Indigenous values and definitions of peace.

“I can say that my involvement here is where my history and my passion and my skill set and my dream for the world comes together.”

She later found that in her engagement with institutions in the Global North, her organization and stories gained recognition and clout from peacebuilding organizations all over the world. The reality of this, disconnected from localization, leaves her with mixed emotions. 

“I grieve for that, of course. But it is a way to share our story, and also a way that other organizations can share their stories, because of the clout… And so we have to work with it. I have to work with it. That can be a way to share – not just our stories, but the stories of other local organizations doing transitions that are led by them.”

And this doesn’t come as a surprise to Tala. She has seen time and again how INGOs deploy and prioritize Western knowledge and frameworks when working with local people.

“It’s all about, ‘they need training because they lack management skills. They need training because they lack financial skills.’ What I’m hoping is that, can we appreciate the wisdom of the people?

“I have seen capacity building, how to write a project proposal, how to do monitoring and evaluation. And all the frameworks come from INGO[s], who are mostly in Western countries.

“Why is there not a conversation on how local people make proposals? How do local people do monitoring and evaluation? How do local people do financial reporting? And when I say that, it’s not just like, for example, among Indigenous peoples, we have different ways of doing that. And so there’s none of the knowledge exchange.”

And the impact on local people working with INGOs is palpable.

“It’s usually from the top down, and then we’re being left feeling like we don’t know a lot. Of course we don’t know your structures, but we know our structures.”


Looking ahead, Tala sees the voices of local people as a source of hope in shaping future transitions for INGOs.

“As our stories are being shared and are being listened to, I’m really, really hoping for the next generation of people who would lead INGOs to really listen to what responsible transition means… The conversation [around] transition has to be embedded in our history. And that includes colonization, that includes slavery, that includes neoliberal policies that have been harmful. And it can be a painful conversation.

It’s my hope that as we engage with it in all the emotions that it brings out – the systems will follow. Like the financial systems, the call-for-proposal systems, the monitoring and evaluation systems. I pray that as more people are becoming more genuine in these issues that are embedded in the transition conversation, mainstream systems will reflect genuine, respectful, local transitions.”

Those emotions will not always be comfortable. But for Tala, leaning into those emotions also carries with it an important skill.

“To be able to hold painful stories. What I’ve learned in my own journey is that I was able to do that.”

We thank Tala for speaking to us about her experiences, and for continuing to be a valued member of the SAS+ Advisory Group.


Meet our other SAS+ Advisory Group members: