The push for indigenous rights

Down to Earth No. 36, February 1998

Indigenous representatives from different parts of the archipelago have demanded that the Indonesian government respect their rights. A joint visit to Jakarta in October is a sign of the growing momentum of the indigenous movement in Indonesia.

The indigenous delegation of 18 representatives from Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, West Papua and Nusa Tenggara Timur travelled to Jakarta to visit the National Commission for Human Rights (Komnas HAM).

They came to protest the violation of their basic human rights. including the right to live free from fear and the right of access to and control over their natural resources. The violations had been carried out by investors who exploited natural resources based on the policies and licences issued by the government, they said.

The delegation was accompanied by activists from WALHI, one of Indonesia's leading environmental NGOs.

In a joint statement read out by a representative of the Rangkong and Seko people of South Sulawesi, they asked the government to review and cancel licences given to investors which had negative impacts on indigenous people. They called for a change in policy, especially as regards the management of natural' resources. They made a point of rejecting all forms of involvement by members of the armed forces in the projects.


Resettlement for indigenous people affected by drought

The government is pushing resettlement on communities affected by Indonesia's worst drought in half a century. This is happening in West Papua. where the famine has reached tragic proportions, but also in other regions.

In December, a district head in Central Sulawesi province asked the transmigration office to resettle 1,205 Tomini people, facing food shortages in Palasa village. The Donggala district head. Labadjo, was quoted as saying that these nomadic tribespeople roamed the mountainous hamlets of Bambasing, Nasai and Labani and used slash and burn farming methods. The long drought had destroyed their crops. The report said the local administration has provided a 400 hectare plot of land for their resettlement (Jakarta Post I 0/ I 2/97)

Another area where indigenous peoples have been affected by the drought is Maluku. On Mangole island, the Kadai, Siboyo and Mangei peoples have been forced out of their settlements to seek food, according to a Jakarta Post report. Local subdistrict head Umar Hassan is quoted as saying the tribespeople had not received assistance from the government because they were always on the move.

He speculated that one of the reasons they moved so ojten was becouse of the presence oj a large timber industry, owned by Barito Pacific Group, on the island...Every time logging activities began the tribes moved to another place, he said. (Jakarta Post I O/ I I /97)

Barito Pacific is owned by timber tycoon and Suharto family crony Pangestu Prayogo.


The delegation urged the government and investors to respect the institutions, cultural values and the expertise of indigenous peoples in their management of natural resources down the generations.

"All decisions taken must be in consultation with the indigenous people of the area in question." (Republika 13/12/97) This joint action is one of a number of recent initiatives which signal the emergence of a united voice among indigenous peoples in Indonesia. Until recently the problems of indigenous groups were voiced, where at all, individually and rarely by indigenous people themselves. This reflects decades of being on the receiving end of the government policy towards what it still terms "masyarakat terasing" or "isolated / alienated communities". The policy still consists of denying rights to lands and resources while opening up indigenous areas to exploitation by large enterprises, whether logging, plantations or mining. The policy is regarded as a kind of civilising mission of peoples considered backward, primitive and stupid.

Now, with the emergence of the indigenous voice in Indonesia, the opposition to these discriminatory practices is gathering momentum. As indigenous groups like the Bentian of East Kalimantan whose leader won the Goldman environmentat prize in 1997, gain recognition for their causes, the push for indigenous rights is gaining strength.