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Indonesia awards biggest Indigenous forest claim yet to Bornean Dayaks

The Dayak Tomun community in Borneo island. Image by Indra Nugraha/Mongabay Indonesia.

  • The Indonesian government has officially recognized the biggest swath yet of forests that fall under the ancestral domain of an Indigenous group, awarding rights to nearly 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) in Borneo.
  • It took the government 11 years to grant this recognition to the 15 Indigenous Dayak communities that had applied for it, according to the nation’s main Indigenous alliance, AMAN.
  • There are many more customary forests yet to be recognized in the region, with activists calling on the government to speed up the recognition process.

JAKARTA — The Indonesian government has recognized the rights of 15 Indigenous Dayak communities to forests on Borneo covering a combined area larger than Jakarta.

The nearly 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) is the largest cluster of customary forests ever recognized by the state.

“This recognition of 15 ancestral forests in Gunung Mas district, Central Kalimantan province, is a positive achievement to commemorate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9,” Alue Dohong, the deputy environment minister, said at an Aug. 8 ceremony to hand over the titles to the customary forests to the Gunung Mas district head.

Environment and Forestry Deputy Minister Alue Dohong hands over a decree that grants formal recognition of customary forests to Gunung Mas district head Jaya S Monong in August 2023. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

The recognition is a long time coming for the Indigenous peoples of Gunung Mas, who began the process to obtain formal customary rights to their forests more than 11 years ago, according to Indonesia’s main Indigenous alliance, AMAN.

“The main challenge was the [lack of] commitment from the local government,” Ferdi Kurnianto, the head of the Central Kalimantan provincial chapter of AMAN, said as quoted by Indonesian daily Kompas. “They [the Indigenous communities] have been fighting for so long.”

The recognition of the ancestral forests is part of President Joko Widodo’s flagship social forestry program. Under the program, his administration aims to reallocate 12.7 million hectares (31.4 million acres) of state forests to local communities and give them the legal standing to manage their forests for 35 years. Official recognition of customary forests goes even further, with the government relinquishing its control over the forests to the communities for good.

Alue said he hoped the recognition of the customary forests in Gunung Mas would help improve the livelihoods of the Dayak communities. He said he also hoped for the recognition to motivate the heads of other districts to push for the recognition of customary forests for communities in their regions.

The environment ministry can’t issue legal recognition of customary forests unless local governments first issue bylaws that recognize the communities have ancestral land rights. These bylaws then serve as the basis for an application to the environment ministry in Jakarta for recognition of the territories associated with those rights.

Save Our Borneo, a Central Kalimantan-based environmental NGO, said there are many Indigenous communities in the region still fighting to get their ancestral forest rights recognized at the district level. More than 775,000 hectares (1.92 million acres) of customary forests in Central Kalimantan could potentially be recognized, according to data from the Ancestral Domain Registration Agency (BRWA), a civil society initiative that maps Indigenous territories across Indonesia.

In total, the BRWA has identified 7.23 million hectares (17.87 million acres) of customary forests in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo. But the environment ministry has only recognized 126,911 hectares (313,604 acres) of customary forests there so far.

“It’s important [to recognize more customary forests] because there’s a lot of Indigenous peoples in Central Kalimantan who need to be recognized and protected by the state,” Save Our Borneo director Muhammad Habibi said as quoted by Kompas.


Banner image: The Dayak Tomun community in Borneo island. Image by Indra Nugraha/Mongabay Indonesia.


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