Indigenous rights in West Kalimantan

Down to Earth No 58  August 2003

An interview with Erma Suryani Ranik, volunteer for AMA Kalbar (Indigenous Peoples Alliance, West Kalimantan), who has been visiting the UK and Norway as part of DTE's programme with the indigenous peoples alliance, AMAN.


What are the main problems facing indigenous peoples in West Kalimantan?

The main problem is that our land rights are not being recognised. Although the government recognises indigenous peoples' rights under some regulations or laws, these have never been implemented. A big problem is the huge number of oil palm plantations which have taken our lands and cut down our forests. Sometimes indigenous communities are forced by the military or the police to give their land to the company. The most important thing is not compensation, but recognition of our rights. Companies have a lot of money to offer indigenous communities as compensation, but they're never frank about the impact of oil palm plantations. These are not just destroying our lands, but also our cultures. Oil palm isn't part of our farming culture. It's rice that is part of our culture - we have a customary ceremony to ask the Gods for good harvests for our families.

The basic problem is that there is no prior informed consent. And there's no information about the impact of oil palm plantations. The company people just say good things about the company and not the bad impacts, for example that the projects will bring roads to remote areas, which indigenous communities want.


Have things improved in the post-Suharto period?

There is no big difference on the ground. In the case of Nyayat village, for example, 1,400 hectares of land were taken by PT Rana Wasto Kencana in 1999 and three indigenous people were in prison in Singkawang - two for one year and one for 18 months - because they struggled to defend their rights. This happened since Suharto fell.


What are AMA's main demands and how do they push for them?

The main demand is to recognise indigenous peoples' rights and implement them. AMA, working together with NGOs in West Kalimantan, collaborates closely with some local assembly members and government officials at district level to work for this. With regional autonomy, one positive impact is that there is an opportunity for indigenous people to return to their own governance systems (which were wiped out during the Suharto-era). In one of the districts, Sanggau, the indigenous community was involved in the process of drafting a local regulation to reintroduce the kampung system. The community is not happy with the resulting regulation, but at least they were involved in the process. This is the first time that the government has involved indigenous people and other community members in drafting regulations in West Kalimantan. Before, there were no public consultations and indigenous people just watched the process from outside.

The AMA Kalbar secretariat is very small - just 2 people - so it focuses on making progress at a local level.


What have been the other impacts of regional autonomy in the province?

The negative impact is that the Bupatis (district heads) have become raja kecil (small kings) in the name of generating local income. They do everything to get money, including cutting the forest. In one district in West Kalimantan, Kapuas Hulu, the Bupati has imposed a new export tax in the border areas, for every log which is brought out to Malaysia.


How are current relations between the Dayaks and the Madurese in West Kalimantan, following the outburst of violent conflict in 1997?

There is no problem between the two communities now. They can live together because, for the Dayaks, the issue was settled after the Madurese recognised their guilt and paid the adat fine for killing Dayaks (money and jars, wild pig). In 1999 there was more conflict, but between the Madurese and the Malays. There wasn't much Dayak involvement in this conflict. The Madurese have not been able to go back to the Malay villages since then and they are still living in Pontianak or government resettlement sites.

It is in Dayak culture not to start fights or conflicts.


What is the Dayak traditional opinion on legal and illegal logging?

The Dayaks have customary protected areas. We believe our ancestors are living there and we cannot cut the forest there or make ricefields there. If someone does, they will be punished by customary law, whether they are outsiders or from the Dayak community. On the terms 'legal' and 'illegal' - it's difficult to differentiate. Every company that comes and logs our land is illegal, because they never ask permission to cut our forests. For us, anyone who logs the forest without permission, consultations and agreement, that's illegal. You can't say it's just based on the government regulations because indigenous rights are not recognised by the HPH [logging concession] system. I do support the international campaign against illegal logging, but it's just a tool to get indigenous rights recognised and reform of the forest management system in Indonesia.


Can you describe the problems associated with mining in West Kalimantan and how these relate to indigenous peoples?

There are no big mining companies in West Kalimantan now, but PT Aneka Tambang has plans for a bauxite mine in Sanggau district. This is on indigenous land - there haven't been any negotiations or consultations yet.

Small-scale gold mining is dangerous because people don't have the knowledge to reduce the environmental impact - they use mercury. This is done in some districts, especially in Ketapang, Benkayang, Landak and Pontianak districts. Local people, including Dayaks do this. There is a big impact on women because the miners dump the waste from mining in the river. The women are the ones who use the river everyday for washing, for drinking water, cooking water etc. They know about the impact on their bodies. In Bengkayang, some of the women from 5 villages decided to hold discussions on how to minimise the impact of mining. They don't think it'll be easy to stop the mining, because people want to make money - they don't have any other source of livelihood. They need support on how to reduce the negative impacts.


What about the forest fires? Is there evidence of health impacts among forest peoples of the 1997-8 forest fires for example?

There haven't been any studies about this. In Pontianak the smoke is bad every year and makes us feel ill. I think a lot of people get ill in the villages from the smoke - and they don't have access to the same healthcare as in the city. There should be a study on this. One company, PT Bumi Pratama Khatulistiwa, was found guilty of burning to clear land was supposed to pay a fine, but the court decision was not implemented. This year the companies did the same thing, the police came to their areas, but nothing was done about it.


Are you optimistic about the future of indigenous peoples in West Kalimantan and Indonesia generally?

I am. If all indigenous peoples in Indonesia struggle for their rights, and make it their 'holy duty', we can pass through any difficult situation no matter how hard it is. I believe the rights of indigenous peoples will be recognised and will be respected by everyone in Indonesia.


Has your visit to the UK been a useful experience?

I've learned a lot about international NGOs in the UK who know how to make campaigns to bring indigenous peoples' cases to international attention. In some cases in Indonesia, indigenous lands are taken by Western-based companies and it is important to let people in those countries know about it. They should know about their companies' behaviour overseas. It will be useful to help communities stop companies taking over our land without our consent.