Widodo lauded for recognizing indigenous people's rights

President grants land entitlements to nine tribal groups across Indonesia
Widodo lauded for recognizing indigenous people's rights

Indigenous community representatives dress President Joko Widodo in a traditional costume on December 29 when he announced the recognition of land to indigenous people. (Photo supplied by Cabinet Secretariat/setcab.go.id


Indigenous communities in Indonesia have lauded a decision by President Joko Widodo granting nine indigenous groups thousands of hectares of customary land.

Indigenous groups have been campaigning for years for entitlement to land which they say is rightfully theirs and which is being eaten up or is under threat from plantation companies.

"This is an important gift for indigenous people after more than seventy years of independence," Abdon Nababan, secretary-general of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago said Jan. 8.

Widodo issued a decree providing more than 13,000 hectares of customary land to nine indigenous communities across the country in a move he said demonstrates the government’s recognition of the importance of indigenous communities.

"Such recognition provides security for indigenous peoples," he said.

However, the fight is not over yet, according to Nababan because there are still many people who need entitlement to about 40 million hectares of customary land.

Luluk Uliyah, executive director of Epistema Institute, an NGO focusing on environmental management studies, said Widodo's decision demonstrated "the government’s commitment to maintain the ecological balance and social justice for indigenous peoples."

Bernardine Steni, a Catholic environmental researcher at the Earth Innovative Institute, said the land allocation was important because it included forests under serious threat by plantation companies.

Communities benefiting from Widodo’s decree include the Tano Batak indigenous group of Pandumaan — Sipituhuta in North Sumatra.

According to reports, PT Toba Pulp Lestari, a plantation firm, previously controlled more than 5,000 hectares of their customary land.

The decree restores their right to the land since President Widodo has instructed the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to remove the company’s entitlement to it.

"This is a source of great joy for the community," said Brihannala Morgan, senior forest campaigner for the Rainforest Action Network, an environmental group that has helped the community in fighting for their rights.

"We congratulate them and celebrate this success," he said.

Meanwhile, Sardi Razak from the Ammatoa Kajang indigenous communities in Bulukumban regency, South Sulawesi, said recognizing people’s rights over more than 300 hectares of customary land there shows government respect for the community’s traditions.

"For a long time, the community has used the land for traditional activities. By recognizing it, the community can maintain their traditions," he said.

However, Father Anselmus Amo, head of Merauke Diocese's Justice and Peace Commission, said indigenous Papuan people continue to experience marginalization, as a result of the government granting licenses to plantation companies.

One mega project, the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate, which converted almost five million hectares of forest into palm oil plantations and rice fields, has marginalized about 70,000 people of the Malind tribe, he said.

"We hope that in future, there is recognition for the rights of these indigenous people, so the systematic practice of marginalization does not continue," he said.

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