Indigenous rights in West Kalimantan revisited

Down to Earth No.84, March 2010

An interview with Erma Ranik

In 2003 we interviewed Erma Ranik for the DTE newsletter. At the time, Erma, a volunteer for the indigenous peoples' alliance in West Kalimantan (AMA Kalbar), was in London on a series of mini-internships facilitated by DTE, as part of a joint programme with the national indigenous peoples' alliance, AMAN.

Seven years on, Erma now sits in the DPD (Dewan Perwakilan Daerah - the Regional Representatives Council) and lives partly in Jakarta and partly in West Kalimantan. DTE got in touch to ask how things have changed.

Congratulations on being elected to the DPD. Can you explain what the DPD does and what your role in it is? (and how many years you will be in the DPD?)

Thank you for your congratulations. The DPD is a parliamentary body that represents regional interests. The Indonesian legislature consists of the national parliament (DPR) (party representatives) and the DPD (regional representatives). These two bodies sit together in the MPR (Peoples Consultative Assembly). All provinces in Indonesia (33 provinces) each have 4 members, all of whom are elected in direct elections which are held at the same time as the elections for DPR members. DPD members have the same term as DPR members: 5 years and the current period runs from 2009 to 2014.

We understand that you were competing against many other candidates. What were the main messages in your election campaign, and why do you think you were successful?

Yes, during the campaign the competition was tight, with a lot of other candidates. They included several leading figures in big NGOs, four DPD members from the 2004-2009 period and community leaders and former members of the DPR. Together with my group PENA,1 I did a lot of work on our 'brand', and our political marketing strategy. We studied books, looking at the theory and the experiences of a variety of people who win elections. We agreed that my election brand would be "young, bright and close to the people". And the main campaign issues would be education, a people-oriented economy and sustainable management of natural resources.

Our success was due to our hard work and our sincere desire to make changes at parliamentary level for the people. We used modern campaigning methods, using video CDs and dialogue. We didn't use traditional methods like handing out money. We believe that people must learn to choose a candidate who is high quality and whose performance they can keep an eye on.

What are the main things you hope to achieve in the DPD?

I'm hoping that the DPD will expand its authority so that its supervisory and budget-related work better for the community. In this way, I, as representative for West Kalimantan, can defend people's rights through a parliamentary institution.

In the 2003 interview, you mentioned that the public role of women in West Kalimantan had been negligible, and your organisation, AMA Kalbar, had organised a series of workshops to raise awareness about women's right to participate in public life and be involved in policy-making and legislative processes. Can you tell us more about the changes for women between 2003 and now?

There have been a lot of changes for women since 2003. Now a lot of women in West Kalimantan (especially indigenous women) have entered into politics. Several others were elected apart from myself. In my case, this was without any institutional support from AMAN. All of the four candidates elected for the DPD are women. This is a great achievement as it's the only province in all of Indonesia where all DPD members are women.

When we interviewed you in 2003, the main problems for indigenous peoples in West Kalimantan you talked about were the lack of recognition for customary land rights, destructive logging, the expansion of oil palm plantations; and the lack of FPIC. What changes have you seen since that year in your area?

There haven't been many changes in terms of policy. What's different now, though, is that the government is more open. There is more space for accountability and for dialogue between indigenous communities and the government. For example, AMAN has signed a cooperation agreement with the Environment Minister.2

In 2003 you talked about the Nyayat community. In 1999 three people had been detained for at least a year when they tried to defend their land from being taken over by oil palm plantation developers PT Rana Wasto Kencana. You said this was an example of how, in some ways, things had not improved in the post-Suharto era. Are conflicts like this still common in your experience?

Conflict between oil palm plantation developers and communities is still going on but not in the same way as before. Now communities no longer view oil palms as a disaster. Some people regard plantations as beneficial. This has occurred because of the high price of palm oil in the last 2 years. As a result, a lot of people have voluntarily surrendered their land to oil palm schemes. But plantations are still being developed in areas that are not suitable for planting. For example they have been given an area around Lake Sentarum in Kapuas Hulu district.

What's happening in Nyayat village these days?

There is still oil palm in Nyayat village. Several members of the community still work there. After those events there wasn't anybody to assist the community, including us in PENA, as we didn't get any funding. But we're still in touch with them.

Regional autonomy had been introduced only relatively recently when we interviewed you in 2003. At the time you commented that autonomy offered the opportunity to introduce positive local-level legislation which helped get recognition for indigenous peoples' customary rights. It was also creating 'raja kecil' (small kings) - a new regional elite whose main aim was to make money. Do you have the same concerns today? What have been the other impacts of local autonomy?

Autonomy really did create 'raja kecil' at first, but it's a little better now, because the mechanism to control the authority of the Bupatis (district heads) is being tightened up.

On the subject of mining, you mentioned that small scale gold mining was damaging the environment and had a particularly big impact on women. This was because the women use the river water polluted by mercury more than men: for washing, cooking etc. Do these problems persist today?

I don't think there's been much change in the impacts of mining faced by women.

At the time, you also mentioned that state mining company PT Aneka Tambang was planning a bauxite mine in West Kalimantan. Has this, or any other large scale mining project been developed?

PT Aneka Tambang hasn't started operations in Sanggau district, but it will start in 2011. There is no complaint from local people as yet.

In 2003 you were optimistic about the future of indigenous peoples in West Kalimantan and Indonesia generally. Do you remain convinced that indigenous peoples will eventually get full recognition for their rights and resources?

I still truly believe that recognition of indigenous peoples' rights will happen, but we really have to still work hard to change the government paradigm towards indigenous peoples.

Have there been any changes that can be related to climate change in the region?

There aren't many changes yet that I have noticed in West Kalimantan.

What do you think about international initiatives to address climate change, such as REDD?

In REDD schemes, I think, indigenous peoples and the provincial and district governments must play clear implementing roles. These schemes must not just be for the government to get money without giving any benefit for the people.

Do have any other comments you'd like to share with DTE readers?

To DTE readers: let's work together to push Indonesia to improve its protections for indigenous peoples, uphold human rights and protect the environment.



1 PENA is an NGO run by indigenous Dayak in West Kalimantan
2 See separate article.