- Dayak Tombun people in Central Kalimantan want President Jokowi to officialize their rights to the land they spent years mapping with NGO assistance.
- Jokowi has already said he backs a stalled domestic law on indigenous rights and the creation of a specialized task force, but advocates want him to expedite these reforms.
- Villagers say mapping indigenous forests will result in greater protection of tree cover because it will leverage centuries of local knowledge.
On May 5th a group of indigenous people from two villages quietly gathered in their Central Kalimantan regency hoping to make history. After centuries spent fighting different ruling empires, the Dayak of Laman Kubung and Sekombulan villages were ready to bid for formal control of the land on which they have lived for generations.
“We were maintaining and protecting the forest and natural resources long before we started with this map,” Edy Zacheus said.
The map in question is the culmination of years of work by local Dayak with the Central Kalimantan branch of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), one of Indonesia’s most influential environmental advocacy groups. Indigenous advocacy groups are pinning their hopes for greater recognition on the reformist promise of Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, whose election last year made him the first Indonesian president not be drawn from the ranks of the elite or military.
Indonesia’s recent record on indigenous rights has been choppy and capricious in recent years, including by signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007 before unambiguously backpedaling from the commitment in subsequent years. Jokowi has already said he backs a stalled domestic law on indigenous rights and the creation of a specialized task force. But advocacy organizations like the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) are applying gentle pressure on Jokowi to expedite these reforms targeting greater indigenous rights. That means accepting a map that would hand control of the land to the Dayak assembled here today.
“We discussed that if the problems affecting indigenous peoples are not immediately resolved, it will hamper Jokowi’s priority programs,” AMAN told Mongabay in June after meeting Jokowi. “Almost all of his priority programs – infrastructure, food, energy and maritime development – overlap with indigenous territories.”
AMAN has given Jokowi a list of 166 names, for example, of people it says have been imprisoned for resisting various projects constructed across the archipelago.
Local indigenous leaders like Edy Zacheus are all too aware that at the heart of the next four years of Jokowi’s presidency lies a planned development boom driven by infrastructure projects worth more than $400 billion. The construction of coal-fired power plants, water treatment facilities and new roads, combined with the expansion of land used for agriculture does not necessarily chime with the administration’s casual commitments for greater indigenous rights.
“The forest is where indigenous peoples derive their livelihoods – it’s where they come together to commune,” he said. “That is where they hunt, find honey, medicine and the rest.”
Berotos, the head of Sekombulan village, says mapping indigenous forests will result in greater protection of tree cover because it will leverage centuries of local knowledge. He also sees the spirit of his ancestors in this map, a document crystallizing the resolve in their long quest for land of their own. He says their ambition is modest – to foster and conserve the land in order that forest may provide livelihoods for his village. Uprooting the environment to plant a lucrative monoculture of oil palm trees is not part of the plan, the Dayak are keen to emphasize.
“We declared this region for the Dayak Tomun in Laman Kubung and Sekombulan villages and invited nearby communities to join with us in protecting this region from the threat of environmental damage and risks to our livelihoods,” the village chief said.
The vast archipelago spanning three time zones employs extensive decentralization in its political system, in part to obtain the kinds of efficiencies in oversight offered by hyper-local governments. Many in the community here are convinced of the merits of a plan for greater local control for indigenous peoples.
Zoning at the local level in Indonesia is a chaotic picture of gerrymandering and blurred lines that often leads to violent disputes. The addition of indigenous claims to government maps is a significant challenge for a bureaucracy that already lacks proper boundary maps for large parts of the country.
An additional challenge in making the map an official state document is that the administrative zone being proposed by the Dayak is based on the migration area in which the Edy and the community’s ancestors settled generations ago. The village of Karang Dangin, for example, has joined the Dayak declaration and signed up to the map.
“The government should immediately recognize these community initiatives to manage forests as part of the state plan to enable the management of forests covering 12.7 million hectares,” Arie Rompas, the executive director of Walhi in Central Kalimantan, told Mongabay.
The government should also ensure a delay on awarding new concessions on the land, commensurate with the moratorium that limits new concessions in forests and peatlands, to give the local community the best prospect of effectively managing the area. Better that the zoning of residential, productive and protected areas is left to those that know the area, rather than the government, he said.
The Dayak have four separate zones in their traditional territory: a settlement on which they build their homes, a productive area in which they grow fruit and rice, an area in which they hunt and a fourth “forbidden forest” reserved for prayer and conservation.
“We took the initiative to complete the mapping of this region,” Edy said. “Hopefully the map can be a tool to spur recognition by all parties, especially the government.”
Pushing the Dayak map through the relevant bureaucratic and political channels will not be easy and will have to overcome obstacles in the Environment and Forestry Ministry that have so far proved intractable.
But for Silvanus Yamaha, a Damong traditional leader in Delang regency, the Dayak map should be seen as a boon for the government, enabling it to simultaneously make use of local expertise to best manage the land as well as fulfilling wider state goals to protect cultures under threat from untrammeled development.
“It won’t be palm oil plantations and plantations, logging concessions and mining that threaten the lives of indigenous peoples in Delang,” he told Mongabay. “We live in harmony with nature.”
Sapariah Saturi. “Kala Masyarakat Dayak Tomun Deklarasikan Peta Wilayah Adat.” Mongabay-Indonesia. 15 May 2015.