AMAN Congress III: towards democracy, prosperity and autonomy

Down to Earth No. 73, May 2007

Some 1,500 indigenous representatives and their supporters - including DTE's staff - gathered in Pontianak,West Kalimantan, for the third AMAN Congress in March 2007 to discuss the priorities of the indigenous movement in Indonesia and to choose a new leadership.Abdon Nababan was elected General Secretary of AMAN (the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago) at a time when the organisation faces increased demands to improve the political power and economic well-being of its members.

The opening ceremony of AMAN's third congress took place on March 17th - the date declared National Indigenous Peoples' Day by AMAN's inaugural congress in Jakarta in 1999. Leaders of West Kalimantan's Dayak communities, as the indigenous hosts, held a traditional ceremony (tolak bala) intended to ensure not only the success of the congress, but also Indonesia's security at a time when the country seemed besieged with disasters - natural and man-made. Dayak dancers in traditional costumes greeted the long parade of other indigenous representatives from all over Indonesia to the main auditorium of Tanjungpura University where the four-day meeting was held.


Consolidating the movement

Like the previous AMAN congresses, the gathering in Pontianak was both the product of dialogue about pressing indigenous issues over the previous three years and an opportunity for exchanges of information and opinions between indigenous delegates from communities scattered throughout the Indonesian archipelago. It also enabled contact between AMAN members and the outgoing AMAN Council; between indigenous peoples and decision-makers, including members of political parties and local and national parliaments; between indigenous organisations from Indonesia and other countries; between community groups and supporting organisations from their own and different regions as well as from Jakarta and overseas; between villagers and NGOs and the media.

All day and through into the night, small groups of people sat outside the central hall discussing the results of the sessions and local and national issues - renewing old friendships and making new ones. The stands of organisations with displays, books and leaflets plus the stalls selling Dayak handicrafts, local products and T-shirts created the atmosphere of a local market.

The official theme of AMAN's third congress (KMAN III) was "to build a strong indigenous organisation to contribute to a democratic society which is both prosperous and independent". Its specific goals were to:

  • improve AMAN's structure by strengthening the organisation at local level in the regions;
  • increase indigenous peoples' political bargaining power in the context of regional autonomy;
  • improve channels of communication within AMAN so that the organisation is more responsive to the communities which comprise its membership;
  • draw up a realistic programme of work;
  • increase public awareness at national level and throughout the regions of indigenous issues;
  • push for the inclusion of indigenous issues in the national political agenda.

Each community organisation belonging to AMAN could be represented by one official delegate and each regional organisation two. Other members and non-members and representatives of other CSOs could attend the national congress, but were not allowed to speak or vote in formal sessions.


Stimulating discussion

The first day of KMAN III was a stimulating mixture of speeches and reflections on the direction of the indigenous movement, punctuated by dances representing all the ethnic communities of West Kalimantan and several songs with political themes by the popular folk singer Franky.

Two international indigenous visitors, from Bangladesh and the Philippines made presentations. They also attended all the congress sessions and discussed issues with individuals participants through interpreters, thus enabling participants to learn from struggles in other countries and about using the UN system to promote indigenous rights.

The national government was represented by the minister for development of 'neglected regions', Syaifullah Yusuf, whose speech was followed by some lively questions and answers. The confidence and skill of indigenous delegates in questioning the minister was in marked contrast to the confrontational atmosphere at the first AMAN congress where a deeply shocked minister for agrarian affairs was confronted by a stream of protests from villagers who had been ignored or oppressed by the political mainstream for decades. This time the minister's somewhat bland, populist speech was well received, but more than one delegate commented cynically later that indigenous people have lower expectations of national politicians these days.

Arguably, since regional autonomy, politics at the provincial and district level rather than in Jakarta have dominated the agendas of most indigenous communities. The selection of Pontianak for the KMAN III venue enabled all participants and other visitors to witness for themselves the strength of the indigenous movement in West Kalimantan.

Local indigenous celebrities from the older generation gave the opening speeches at the congress: A.R. Mecer (one of founders of the community development institution Pancur Kasih and a member of the national parliament) and A. Nazarius (a leading member of the credit union movement and head of AMA Kalbar). Stefanus Masiun, one of the younger leading Dayaks, who recently stood as candidate for district head, headed the committee that organised this massive event.

Eleven day-long workshops were held as part of the congress, each focusing on an issue of key importance to indigenous communities. These included politics, economics, women, spatial planning, community-based forestry, oil palm plantations, environment, conservation, indigenous law and human rights. The aim was to enable participants to explore one problem in some depth, come up with possible solutions and draft strategies appropriate to the current social and political context. The outcomes formed part of the resolutions for AMAN's demands to the government (see box below) and the recommendations for AMAN's programme of work for the next five years.

The third day and fourth days were taken up with the formal business of the congress, starting with the reports to the membership from the outgoing AMAN Council. The meeting divided into three 'Commissions' to discuss and determine revisions to AMAN's statutes, priority activities for the coming period and congress' resolutions for government action. The commissions reported back and, after some discussion, AMAN delegates approved their decisions.


Matters of debate

The issue of AMAN's membership proved to be highly contentious - not surprisingly since it is intimately linked to questions about the organisation's structure, representation and the future direction of the indigenous movement.

Representation and decision-making had been problematic for AMAN from its early days. AMAN's most powerful body was its Council, but it proved expensive, time consuming and unwieldy to call all 54 members together when decisions had to be taken so this only met once a year. AMAN's secretariat and its Executive Secretary, who answered to the Council, had limited authority, which made it harder to respond quickly to the organisation's needs and to government initiatives.

In addition, both organisations and communities could be AMAN members. This created problems of representation because the dozens of local indigenous organisations were very diverse in their nature. Some, for example the North Sumatra group, BPRPI, pre-dated the establishment of AMAN by many years and were set up for their own specific purposes (see DTE 63 and DTE 68). Others, such as AMA Riau, came into being more recently to bring together AMAN members in a certain geographical area. Moreover, some AMAN organisations considered all their members to belong to AMAN (whether or not they had been formally accepted), while others were only comprised of officially registered AMAN members.

Another question was whether, in order to be more effective politically, the indigenous movement in Indonesia should co-operate more closely with other pro-democracy groups that share similar interests - for example peasant farmer unions and urban poor associations. This would mean that other organisations, including NGOs and unions, and even individuals could become members of AMAN. Some consider that establishing an indigenous party is the only way to reverse the political marginalisation from which indigenous peoples have suffered for years. This is likely to become a mattter for further debate as Indonesia's 2009 general elections draw closer.

One of the preparatory steps for KMAN III was to set up a small team to review AMAN's statutes. This drafted a new organisational structure and modus operandi which was presented at the final meeting of the 2003-7 AMAN Council, held the day before KMAN III started. 


AMAN's Executive Board 2007-12

Papua                               Alex Sanggenafa
Maluku                             Elisa Keisya
Bali & Nusa Tenggara      Dewa Nyoman Suardana (chair)
Java                                   Jajang Kurniawan
Sulawesi                           Isjaya Kaladen
Kalimantan                       Ariana
Sumatra                            Hurun Nuh


Decisions taken

The decision was taken that AMAN should have a Secretary General for a five-year period with much greater powers. A new Executive Board (Pengurus Besar) of seven members would be selected to represent the main regions while the AMAN Council itself would play more of an advisory role. Full council meetings would only be held every two years. In future, only indigenous communities are eligible to be AMAN members. These communities will form the basis of AMAN's new organisational structure, with representation in local indigenous organisations which will, in turn, be represented in regional organisations. There will be guidelines for the overall shape and functions of these local and regional organisations, and their powers and responsibilities.

Some regional organisations objected to the new structure. The Acehnese indigenous organisation, JKMA, said it would leave AMAN and walked out of the congress after making an impassioned statement to the gathered assembly that the new system was too centralistic, hierarchical and more like a government body or a political party. Matheus Pilin, from the Pontianak-based organisation POR, which promotes political education, declared that AMAN had no intention of becoming a political party but would continue to take a political position on local and national issues in order to further the interests of the indigenous movement. The new structure would help to stimulate grass-roots initiatives so that more indigenous people engaged in politics at all levels. "It is vital that indigenous people become involved in political parties at the district and provincial levels in order to press for indigenous peoples' agendas at the national level," he explained.

AMAN members went on to select their representatives for the AMAN Council and the Executive Board for 2007-12. Finally, elections were held for AMAN's Secretary General, and were won by Abdon Nababan.

Abdon is not new to AMAN: he was Executive Secretary for the period 2000-2003. In his acceptance speech, he explained that he had only stood as a candidate because many AMAN members had asked him to return. Although his background is as an NGO person, he explained that he had always worked for the environment and indigenous communities and pledged to serve AMAN's members and the indigenous movement with all his heart.

It is early days yet for the new AMAN leadership, but within a week of taking up office Abdon had made it clear that he intends to get the younger generation of indigenous activists more closely involved in running AMAN and to pay more attention to empowering the regions in decision-making. He hopes the indigenous communities in Aceh will continue to work with AMAN and brushes aside concerns that the new style structure will be rigid and prescriptive. "Exactly what form district and regional organisations will take will be up to the communities in that area. So, for example, indigenous communities belonging to AMAN in the mountainous region of mid-Sulawesi known as Tokalekaju might decide to set up a regional organisation that cuts across provincial boundaries", he said.


Challenges for the future

Under the leadership of Abdon, his predecessor Emil Kleden, and the first two AMAN Councils, this national indigenous alliance has come a long way since it was established in March 1999. During that period of interim government following the fall of Suharto, AMAN symbolised the prevalent spirit of downtrodden sectors of society who were demanding their place in a new, reformed Indonesia. Its original aim was to bring together fragmented communities that were struggling to maintain their cultures, livelihoods and access to natural resources and to represent the interests of indigenous peoples at national level.

In the intervening years, AMAN has been involved in successful consultations and lobbying for changes to legislation such as the ministerial decree on resolving conflicts over adat lands (No 5/1999), the 2001 decree issued by the People's Representative Assembly (TAP MPR IX) and the 2002 Amendment to the Constitution, and has played a major role in drafting the Indonesian Timber Legality Verification Standard (see separate article).

However, there is still a considerable way to go before Indonesia's indigenous people attain the goals of the third AMAN congress.

The political context is now very different from in 1999, with regional autonomy and direct elections of governors, district and even village heads as well as members of parliament and the president. But the heady atmosphere which prevailed in the late 1990s has dissipated; the demands for real reform have not been answered. The main political parties have largely maintained control and the economic paradigms remain the same. Despite President SBY's mission to promote good governance, corruption is still endemic throughout the political and business communities. There is continuing religious and ethnic sectarianism. 'Development' has marginalised many communities - around 110 million people are still living in poverty - and the majority of Indonesia's estimated 70 million indigenous peoples have incomes below the official poverty line.

Indonesia's indigenous movement now faces some tough choices. One option focuses on pushing for higher living standards for indigenous communities and more opportunity to participate in a democratic society in the pursuit of their rights. Another focuses on indigenous societies' unique cultural and historical legacy, with the risk that this could be misinterpreted as a return to patrimonial and feudal local governance systems.

Any organisation must take account of changes in the social and political arena within which it operates. And, as with any organisation, which grows and matures, AMAN's relationships with its members and supporting organisations should not remain the same.

The challenge now is how to carry out the necessary transformations while retaining the integrity and ideals of the organisation. 


Indigenous demands to the Indonesian government

The third AMAN Congress approved the following resolutions from the workshops and commissions at the Pontianak meeting, 17-21st March 2007:

Press the government to:

  • implement TAP MPR IX on the framework legislation to reform laws on land and natural resources;
  • withdraw all licenses for logging, plantation and mining concessions issues on customary lands without indigenous consent;
  • ratify ILO Convention 169 on indigenous rights;
  • recognise and protect immediately indigenous rights as set out in the Indonesian Constitution (Clause 18b (2));
  • stop all forms of violence against indigenous communities;
  • remove all military institutions from indigenous lands and recognise indigenous communities' right to provide their own security;
  • recognise adat laws and justices as part of national legal and justice systems;
  • include aspects of indigenous culture in the national curriculum in schools;
  • adopt measures that strengthen economies at the community level;
  • revise the Basic Agrarian Law (No 5/1960) and local governments to introduce regulations to settle land disputes;
  • carry out a judicial review of legislation on spatial planning and large scale plantations;
  • recognise indigenous peoples' beliefs and not to discriminate against them;
  • recognise and respect indigenous communities' rights to set the boundaries of their customary lands;
  • promote the establishment of environmental groups in indigenous communities;
  • stop the sale of commercially produced alcohol in Papua and the Indonesian archipelago;
  • take action against agents who sell or broker indigenous lands;
  • accelerate the provision of basic infrastructure to isolated parts of the country.
Source: Pontianak Post 21/Mar/07

(Sources: AMAN website aman.or.idGaung AMAN edition XXV, February 2007; Kompas 20/Mar/07;