Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples continue the struggle for recognition

Abdon Nababan is elected secretary-general of AMAN for another 5 years at KMAN IV, Tobelo.

DTE 91-92, May 2012

The Fourth Congress of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (KMAN IV) celebrated the achievements of the past five years. But there is still much more to be done to secure indigenous communities’ rights to lands and resources.

A draft indigenous peoples’ law, Free, Prior and Informed Consent, natural resources management, climate change and REDD were major discussion points at KMAN IV. This mass gathering of 2,600 people was held in Tobelo on Halmahera Island, in North Maluku. For seven days, indigenous participants from across Indonesia made the most of a rare opportunity to share experiences, listen to the views of academics, government ministers, and local and international indigenous resource people, and debate and decide priority issues. Towards the end of the Congress they re-elected Abdon Nababan as AMAN’s General Secretary, chose a new Council, endorsed amendments to the organisation’s structure and adopted a workplan for the next five years. Along the way, they and the observers invited to attend the event celebrated indigenous culture; there was ritual, dancing, music and food in abundance. 

Perempuan AMAN

Even before KMAN IV got off the ground, Indonesia’s indigenous peoples were in the news. At a meeting of indigenous women arranged in Tobelo just before KMAN IV, a new organisation was set up.  Persekutuan Perempuan Adat Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara, or the Indigenous Women’s League of AMAN, (Perempuan AMAN for short), aims to fight for the collective rights of indigenous women and full participation in decision-making. It wants to cultivate solidarity, document local knowledge, support leadership for indigenous women and push for change within indigenous communities as well as at regional, national and international levels.

The meeting discussed the special problems faced by indigenous women from within their societies as well as the external threats that have the greatest negative impact on women as guardians of natural resources and providers of food.

A declaration issued by the meeting also said Perempuan AMAN would fight alongside AMAN for the recognition, respect, protection and fulfilment of indigenous peoples’ rights to achieve political sovereignty, economic independence and cultural dignity in the cause of equal justice and prosperity for all Indonesians. The date of the declaration, April 16th, was also declared National Indigenous Women’s Day.[1]

The new organisation is led by Aleta Baun[2], an indigenous leader from Molo in East Nusa Tenggara province, and has seven women from different regions on its national board. Four programmes of work were agreed: capacity-building, economic and political empowerment, participation in decision-making and information & documentation management.[3]

KMAN: pushing for greater legal recognition

A water ceremony symbolising the coming together of indigenous communities from across the archipelago, marked the official opening of KMAN IV itself. This was followed by speeches from Marzuki Alie (Speaker of Indonesia’s national parliament), Mari Elka Pangestu (Tourism and Creative Industries Minister), Noer Fauzi Rachman (head of Agrarian Studies Dept, Bogor Agricultural University), and Henry Saragih (head of the Indonesian Peasants Union (SPI).

AMAN’s push for legal representation for indigenous peoples was a prominent theme in the speeches, underlined when the Draft Law on the Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Peoples (RUU PPMA) was formally handed to Marzuki Alie. AMAN has been preparing the RUU for more than two years and has succeeded in getting it on the parliamentary agenda for 2012.[4]

If the RUU gets passed by parliament this year as hoped, it will be a huge breakthrough for indigenous peoples in Indonesia. The law will provide legal recognition for indigenous peoples and their rights to land, natural resources, traditional knowledge and intellectual property.[5] It will provide them with the firm basis under national law to exercise their right to give or withhold their Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) on plantations, mining, logging and other projects affecting their lands.[6] The RUU’s journey through parliament could well be a rocky one however, with likely challengers coming from parties with close connections to big business. These include Golkar, whose leader Aburizal Bakrie presides over an array of mining and plantation businesses.[7]

The hard work involved in drafting and lobbying to get RUU PPMA as far as parliament builds on more than a decade of legal and policy gains by Indonesia’s indigenous movement and its supporters. These include a 2002 Amendment to the Constitution which recognises the cultural identity and traditional rights of indigenous peoples as a basic human right; the 2007 law on the Management of Coastal Regions and Small Islands[8] and the 2009 Environment Law, both of which recognise adat (customary) rights.[9]  Last year presidential aide Kuntoro Mangkusbroto signalled a policy shift on the part of the Indonesian government by announcing that Indonesia would recognise, respect and protect adat rights, referring to a key piece of legislation passed in 2001 – the TAP MPR IX.[10]

However, many of Indonesia’s important sectoral laws, notably the 1999 forestry law (No 41), fail to protect indigenous peoples’ rights. Law No 41 has been used in the interests of big business, leading to a situation on the ground where companies can enter indigenous areas and start clearing forests without the consent of the customary owners and, in some cases, without their knowledge. Now indigenous groups are challenging the forestry law in Indonesia’s Constitutional Court. A request for a judicial review of the law was submitted by AMAN and two indigenous communities, the Kasephuan Cisitu people from Banten, Java and the Kenegerian Kuntu people from Riau, Sumatra on March 19th - Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day.[11]

Climate change, renewable energy and REDD+

A series of workshops covering a wide range of topics was held on days two and three at KMAN IV in Tobelo. They included sessions on food and energy sovereignty, climate change adaptation and mitigation, large plantations, the extractive industries, traditional conservation, and political participation. 

The workshops allowed AMAN representatives to share information from their own regions as well as have access to information from resource people. At the climate change adaptation workshop, Kortianus Sabeleake from the Mentawai Islands off the West coast of Sumatra described how climate change is bringing more floods to inland areas. As people live in houses on stilts, they are safe, but many of their livestock perish in the floods. The local government does not treat the floods as a disaster situation even though the loss of livestock results in food shortages for the communities.[12]

At the climate change mitigation workshop, it was clear that most indigenous peoples do not understand REDD+ as a means of tackling climate change and remain sceptical of this and other climate initiatives imposed from outside. However, Rizal Mahfud, of AMAN Central Sulawesi said REDD+ is an opportunity for indigenous peoples to get recognition for their customary rights. The UN REDD project in Central Sulawesi, he said, is involving indigenous communities in drafting safeguards for potential REDD+ projects in their area.[13]

Indigenous fund launched

The Japanese government is providing a grant of USD3 million to fund capacity-building in 250 indigenous communities in Indonesia, over three years. Announced at KMAN IV, the fund will be managed by the World Bank and implemented by AMAN.

Most of Indonesia’s adat communities live in state-claimed forest areas. Their livelihoods often depend on these forests yet they generally don’t have formal ownership of their land. However, they are aware of their customary rights,” said Juan Martinez, Senior Social Development Specialist for the World Bank in Indonesia. This project recognizes that adat communities are often left out of forest policy discussions, and aims to build their capacity so that they can fight for their rights and concerns in these discussions.”

The capacity-building programme aims to strengthen community governance, improve local adat institutions, and raise the income levels of indigenous peoples. The grant is expected to benefit nearly 250,000 people from 250 indigenous communities in Central Kalimantan, East Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, Papua, West Papua, Jambi, South Sumatra, Aceh, Riau, and Central Sulawesi.

(Source: 23/Apr/2012; World Bank website 19/Apr/2012)


[1] Declaration, Meeting of Indigenous Women of the Archipelago, 16 April 2012. Indonesian version only at

[2] Aleta Baun’s fight to protect her community’s natural resources from mining is outlined in DTE 74, August 2007 (see text box), and DTE 83, December 2009.

[3] AMAN media team posting on, 18/Apr/2012.

[5] 19/Apr/2012, via KMAN IV website.

[6] The Jakarta Globe 18/Apr/2012.

[7] For more background on Aburizal Bakrie, Golkar chair, see DTE 85-86, August 2010.

[8] See speech by AMAN Secretary General Abdon Nababan in DTE 80-81, June 2009.

[9] Kontan, 19/Apr/2012 via KMAN IV website.

[10] See DTE 89/90, November 2011. For more background on the TAP MPR 2011 see DTE 52, February 2002.

[11] VIVAnews 11/Mar/2012

[12] KMAN IV Press release 21/Apr/2012

[13] KMAN IV Press release 21/Apr/2012. For an update of REDD+ in Indonesia, see DTE 89-90, November 2011.