Indigenous Peoples' demands for change

Down to Earth No 43, November 1999

AMAN, the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago, was created as a result of the Indigenous Congress held in Jakarta in March. Since then, this first national indigenous peoples' organisation has begun to make its presence felt in a number of ways.

Regional meetings of AMAN have been held in several places between July and September. The size, venues and organisation of these gatherings varied. Some were held in the provincial capitals (for example, the Southeast Sulawesi gathering met in Kendari); others in villages e.g. Central Sulawesi met in Toro near Donggala. The two-day Jambi meeting was facilitated jointly by AMAN and local NGO Warsi; while in West Sumatra, the Padang-based NGO Association for Research and Advocacy (LRA) organised a four-day event. In other provinces, indigenous organisations themselves took the lead. The East Kalimantan regional meeting involved 82 indigenous participants from the main rivers of the province; the West Sumatra meeting was confined to 30 Minangkabau community representatives from the mainland.

The purpose of all these meetings was the same: to continue discussions – in greater depth and within a local context - on issues raised at the Congress as well as to raise and take decisions on indigenous issues of local and national concern which would feed into AMAN's Council meeting in August.

Although the regional AMAN consultations took place only a few months after the Congress, the political context was very different. A real spirit of change was in the air. Indonesia's first democratic elections in thirty years had taken place; the government party GOLKAR had lost overall control; and a new president would be selected shortly. Five of the new members of parliament were indigenous (although not selected by indigenous groups or communities) and AMAN was hoping that this would bring a change for the better. Indonesia's indigenous people were looking to influence the agenda of a new and very different government.

In West Sumatra, for example, the thirty leaders of indigenous communities (called nagari in the local language) identified the dispossession of land and forests by logging concessions and plantations as their key problem. This, and the uniform system of village administration imposed by the government, had caused a breakdown in traditional mechanisms controlling the exploitation of natural resources. Indigenous people who stood up to companies, investors or officials who threatened their customary rights were intimidated, arrested and imprisoned by the police and armed forces. The result was an increase in poverty. Participants drew attention to a series of reports over the past year about severe food shortages and malnutrition in West Sumatra, once renowned for being one of the prime rice-producing regions of Indonesia. The Minangkabau representatives did not share the government's optimism that co-operatives would strengthen the local economy. On the contrary, these enterprises were being used by powerful political elites to gain control over resources which used to be controlled by village communities themselves.


'Give us back our land'

The same themes emerged from most of the regional meetings both in terms of problems identified and the action required. Their message was that indigenous communities have the right to control their natural resources. The overall aims were expressed in terms of maintaining and restoring control over customary land/forests; strengthening customary law and its role in village governance; and developing indigenous communities' economic power. Over and over again, indigenous peoples called for the new government to cancel legislation such as the Village Governance Law No.5 1979 and Presidential decrees (e.g. KepPres No.55 1993) that have allowed the state to claim control over customary lands, and to stop logging and large-scale plantation operations, particularly oil palm.

The indigenous groups' demands were clear, but the means by which these were to be achieved were less so. For example, few groups had got to grips with the implications of new legislation which gives greater administrative and financial control to local government (see DTE 41, Supplement). Nevertheless, certain regional meetings did come up with specific measures to bring about the changes they demanded. East Kalimantan decided to press for at least half the seats in the local administrative assembly to be allocated to indigenous peoples and a local administrator (bupati) from the indigenous community. West Sumatra decided that a map of customary lands, to be agreed by all indigenous communities, was an essential tool for demanding recognition of adat lands by the local authorities and that priority should be given to participatory community mapping work. The Jambi-based NGO Warsi, which has worked with the Orang Rimba (also called the 'Kubu' or Suku Anak Dalam) for many years, proposed that a representative of these marginalised forest peoples should be selected as one of the appointed members of the Consultative Assembly which determines Indonesia's next president. Representatives of indigenous communities in South Sumatra marched through the provincial capital Palembang to present their demands to the local administrative assembly, although the head of the local assembly has yet to respond.

Most of the regional meetings decided to set up branches of AMAN to extend the indigenous peoples' organisation at local level. These now exist in West Sumatra, South Sumatra, East Kalimantan, South-east Sulawesi and Central Sulawesi.

AMAN's second Council meeting was held 26-30th August in Rante Pao, Tana Toraja, South Sulawesi. (The first took place immediately after the March Congress in Jakarta). Some indication of the importance of the meeting locally can be gauged by the fact that the Deputy Governor of South Sulawesi gave the opening speech and around 1,000 local government officials and members of the local community attended. The meeting was attended by indigenous council members from 26 provinces (Riau and Moluccas did not attend). Abdon Nababan, former Director of the environmental NGO Telapak, was appointed acting Executive Secretary by AMAN's Council aftre the resignation of H. Arifin, who had been appointed in March.

Over the four days, the Council considered the inputs from regional meetings and clarified its position on a number of issues. The outcome was a strongly worded statement addressed to the President, leaders of parliament and the Consultative Assembly, the heads of the military and police and the Chief Justice. Some of the demands were general in nature and emphasised those made at the regional meetings and the Congress earlier this year, such as the recognition of indigenous peoples' sovereignty over their customary lands and the withdrawal of all legislation and regulations which contravene this principle. Others were more specific and included demands to stop military oppression in Aceh, West Papua and the Moluccas; cancellation of the government's Integrated Economic Development Plans in Biak and Mamberamo; and action on a number of land rights cases involving logging, plantation and mining concessions on customary lands in Sulawesi, Kalimantan and NTT.

On the national front, AMAN was among the organisations which vigorously opposed the new Forestry Act. As the Bill went through the final drafting stage in May, AMAN demanded that it should be completely scrapped because did not recognise or protect indigenous peoples' forest rights. In its place, AMAN gave its support to new legislation on forest resource management proposed by the community forestry lobbying network FKKM. It prefaced its demands with its perception of the relationship between indigenous peoples and state control of forests:

We indigenous peoples have suffered more than any other group of the Indonesian public from over 30 years of forest development by the State. Through the 1967 Basic Forestry Act and its governing regulations, the government has forcibly taken control of tens of thousands of hectares of customary forest (hutan adat) that has been controlled, owned and managed for many, many generations by Indonesian citizens known as indigenous peoples. It changed the status of these traditional forest lands to state land without any discussion with the relevant indigenous communities or their consent.

Their appeal was rejected. In a last ditch attempt to stop the Forestry Bill being pushed through the House of Representatives, AMAN issued an even stronger worded statement in September. This expressed AMAN's view that the new Forestry Act would be no better than the 1967 Basic Forestry Act it was replacing. Furthermore, the whole process of drafting and debating the Bill implicitly insulted and degraded indigenous peoples since there had been no consultation with them. They warned that, unless substantially revised, the new Forestry Act would increase conflict over forest resources and threatened to refuse to uphold the new legislation if passed.

"They say we have been stripped of our land in the national interest. Only after they destroyed our environment are we indigenous people allowed to have what remains."

Laode Abubakar, Buton, SE Sulawesi

(AMAN press release 26/5/99, 30/8/99, 10/9/99; AMANSB 20/7/99; IMASS press statement 30/7/99; WARSI press release 13/8/99; AMUSUTA 20/9/99; Kendari Ekspres No15, Oct 1999)


International Alliance of Indigenous-Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests

The address of the Alliance's Technical Secretariat
(see DTE Special Issue, October 1999) is:

14 Rudolf Place Business Estate,
Miles Street,
London SW8 1RP,
Tel: +44 171 587 3737;      fax: +44 171 793 8686;