Ten years of AMAN

Down to Earth No.80-81, June 2009

To mark the ten year anniversary of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago, DTE has translated a speech by AMAN's Secretary General on March 17th 2009.

A Decade of the Indigenous Movement and AMAN's first ten years

The Executive Board of the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago

A speech by AMAN's Secretary General commemorating the past decade of the Indigenous Peoples movement in Indonesia and celebrating AMAN's 10th anniversary.

Jakarta 17th March 2009

To all my Indigenous brothers and sisters of the archipelago who celebrate with us:

Today, the 17th of March 2009, is a very special day for all Indonesia's Indigenous Peoples and, of course for AMAN. On this day ten years ago, indigenous leaders and proponents of indigenous rights from every corner of the Indonesian archipelago gathered in Hotel Indonesia in Jakarta. This was the inaugural congress of Indonesia's Indigenous Peoples which proclaimed our fundamental position: the need to restructure the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the state. It was this gathering which generated the movement's campaign slogan: ''If the state does not acknowledge us, we will not acknowledge the state''.

This position was accompanied by our collective determination to stand up against all forms of oppression, exploitation, and marginalisation of Indigenous Peoples throughout Indonesia and human rights violations against them. It was to safeguard this movement that we agreed to set up the Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) on this very day ten years ago. The mandate for AMAN was to become a vehicle to coordinate the communal struggle of Indonesian Indigenous Peoples to restore our collective rights. Prime amongst these are:

  1. The rights of 'authority' (to own and control) and management (to protect and utilise) the land and natural resources in our customary domains;
  2. the rights to our identity, cultures, belief systems ('religion'), traditional knowledge and intellectual property;
  3. The right of self governance in keeping with our traditional institutions and governance systems;
  4. The right to self regulation in accordance with our customary laws (including traditional justice systems) and regulations agreed collectively by indigenous communities.

These fundamental rights which we have tirelessly continued to promote constituted the basis for Indigenous Peoples to define themselves at that first AMAN congress as: "communities who live on customary lands based on ancestral rights handed down through the generations, who have sovereignty over these lands and resources and whose societies and cultures are governed by customary law and customary institutions which manage the continuity of their lives."

This was our position and our creed ten years ago. Since then much has happened. Overall, Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia have certainly experienced changes, although whether these should be seen as steps in the right direction or not is debatable. AMAN has noted how, over the past decade, indigenous communities have become more aware of their collective rights. This awareness has been accompanied by greater self confidence in ourselves as part of Indonesian society with the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens.

Organisationally, AMAN's 10 year journey has also had its highs and lows: there have been successes and not a few failures; moments of joy mixed with sadness; optimism sometimes tinged with pessimism; solidarity and loyalty, but betrayal too. These various aspects of our movement have provided inspiration and learning experiences for the leaders and supporters of indigenous rights to continue to strengthen our position and to act collectively, as well as to revise our strategies and make organisational improvements for the future.

My Indigenous brothers and sisters from the whole of Indonesia, Changes have taken place and continue to do so at the level of the state. We welcomed the strengthening of the Indonesian Constitution through the Amendment which recognises the ''cultural identity and traditional rights of Indonesian people of customary law''as a basic human right. This change at the constitutional level also demonstrates a more positive attitude towards Indigenous Peoples' collective rights, even though much more sectoral legislation still has to be removed from the statute and reformulated as it does not reflect the spirit of the constitutional amendment. A more favourable change in this direction is apparent in the 1999 Regional Autonomy law1 and its 2004 replacement.2 This presents greater opportunities to return to 'locally-determined village autonomy' in line with local indigenous governance systems. We also welcomed Special Autonomy in Papua which is predicated on the existence of the indigenous population and recognises customary law. Another fairly progressive piece of legislation which acknowledges and protects indigenous communities' collective rights is the 2007 law on the Management of Coastal Regions and Small Islands.3

Although there have been minor, partial changes, these have not gone far enough bearing in mind the massive scale of the problems associated with Indigenous Peoples' rights. Thousands of cases of land rights violations are still piled up in various ministries, sectoral departments, National Commissions such as the National Commission for Human Rights and the National Forestry Council, local government offices and, very probably, the Supreme Court awaiting final, definitive adjudication. Too many central and local government regulations have yet to acknowledge fully the presence of indigenous peoples and our customary rights. The process of impoverishment continues. The delivery of government services to meet the needs of indigenous communities far from major urban centres is still absolutely minimal and highly discriminatory.

My Indigenous brothers and sisters: We must continue the struggle. In a short while the 2009 General Elections will take place to select our representatives in the state's political institutions. We have listed at least 194 AMAN supporters from 32 political parties who have registered as candidates at various levels of government. These candidates are our supporters whom we have delegated and we will, of course, have to keep a watchful eye on them as the indigenous movement's political representation in local, regional and national assemblies. Some have even signed formal contracts committing them to fight for AMAN's aims and objectives if they are elected. We are delegating these people to build a link between Indigenous Peoples and the state via formal political channels, to work within the establishment. That is why it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that they do this in line with the mandate from AMAN's third Congress (2007).

We believe that, with firm resolve, clear thinking and adherence to the precious values handed down to us through the generations, AMAN's candidates will be able to get through this challenging period with shining colours to secure the presence of indigenous representation within the current political system. For AMAN, such political work is a noble cause and one which we should undertake with the utmost respect.

On this happy occasion, we thank everyone who has made the effort to understand, empathise with and continue to support what AMAN has been doing, so that we can celebrate our 10th anniversary. Without the support of these parties, AMAN would not have been able to survive or to face up to all kinds of internal and external challenges. Your advice, criticism and many sorts of support mean so much to AMAN.

We ask for your prayers and continued support.

Many congratulations to all the indigenous communities throughout the archipelago. Let us continue to strive towards the realization of a movement which has political sovereignty, economic independence and cultural prestige.

Thank you on behalf of AMAN.



1 No. 22/1999
2 No. 32/2004
3 No. 27/2007