Sandra Moniaga

For decades, the indigenous peoples of Indonesia had been engaged in low profile struggles against the loss of their rights and pride due to state policies, laws and activities. In 1999, they started to organize. More than 200 representatives of indigenous peoples from all over the country gathered in the first Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (Kongres Masyarakat Adat Nusantara I, or AMAN I). The Congress was originally initiated by Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Kalimantan Barat/Indigenous Peoples Alliance of West Kalimantan (AMA Kalbar), Jaringan Kerja Pemetaan Partisipatif/Participatory Mapping Network (JKPP) and Jaringan Pembelaan Hak-hak Masyarakat Adat/The Indigenous Peoples Rights Advocacy Network (JAPHAMA) and received strong support from other regional indigenous peoples organizations and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) networks. The Congress, held in the heart of Jakarta, gained large media coverage and resulted in the establishment of Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (Alliance of the Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago) or AMAN. Gayung bersambut, kata berjawab – the challenge has been accepted (to continue to struggle for indigenous peoples rights).

Prior to the Congress, many indigenous peoples had been struggling to save their lands and lives. Many stood up firmly against companies and local authorities taking over their lands, some struggled in quiet ways. Starting in 1988 and continuing until today, hundreds of Batak Toba in North Sumatera have been struggling against P.T. Inti Indorayon Utama (now renamed P.T. Toba Pulp Lestari), that was granted permits to clear the forest and develop timber plantation for its pulp and paper mill. Ten women led by Nai Sinta pioneered the struggle in defending their ancestral lands. The land was secretly transferred to P.T. Inti Indorayon Utama through forged signatures. In another case, youth and elders of Dayak Simpang in Ketapang District, West Kalimantan resisted a palm oil plantation development and logging concession on their customary lands. In Kalimantan the Dayak Bentian, who are known for their knowledge and skill in rattan cultivation, struggled against logging companies cutting down their forests and ruining their rattan gardens.[i]

Initial step

In response to the local struggles and the authoritarian state attitude, (Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia/Indonesian Forum for Environment-Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) and Wahana Lestari Persada (WALDA)-Toraja facilitated a meeting in 1993 in Tana Toraja of a number of indigenous peoples leaders such as Nai Sinta from North Sumatra, Petinggi Aris from Simpang Hulu, L.B. Dingit from East Kalimantan, Den Upa Rombelayuk and Pak Sombolinggi from Tana Toraja, Oom Ely from Haruku and Tom Beanal from Amungme Peoples in West Papua. The meeting was also attended by human rights and environmental advocates (mainly the young indigenous ones) who, with the indigenous leaders, went on to establish JAPHAMA. The meeting also agreed to use the term masyarakat adat as a common expression to refer to indigenous peoples in Indonesia. This term, known and used by many indigenous peoples in Indonesia, means: peoples who have ancestral origin in a particular geographical territory and have a system of values, ideology, economy, politics, culture, society and land management. The term was also seen as the most socially and politically acceptable in the context of 1993 under the authoritarian and oppressive rule of the Soeharto regime.

The meeting concluded that the large number of cases of indigenous peoples rights violations in Indonesia have to be confronted with a mass organized movement. Realizing the limitation of the individuals and groups attending the meeting, it was agreed that priority would be given to strengthening the movement by agreeing that each participant is obligated to ‘quietly’ familiarize the concept, terms and advocacy strategy to their own constituencies. Furthermore, it was also agreed that JAPHAMA should not become a formal institution by itself but should remain a dynamic network with the mandate to support the development of indigenous peoples organizations and internalization of indigenous peoples concerns by as many NGOs and other institutions as possible.

1993 onward was the era when more indigenous peoples’ organizations and indigenous advocacy NGOs were established all over Indonesia in addition to those that already existed. In West Sumatra young Mentawaians founded Yayasan Citra Mandiri, in West Kalimantan some young Dayak founded Lembaga Bela Banua Talino, while in East Kalimantan Lembaga Bina Benua Puti Jaji was founded. A similar process was established in Maluku with Baileo Maluku which later became a network of indigenous peoples’ organizations and indigenous NGOs in Central and South-east Maluku. In West Papua young lawyers established Lembaga Pengkajian dan Pemberdayaan Masyarakat Adat (LPPMA).[ii] At the same time, some of the Jakarta-based human rights and environmental NGOs took up the indigenous peoples issue as their priority work, including groups such as ELSAM (Institute for Human Rights Study and Advocacy), WALHI, International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), Konsorsium Pembaharuan Agraria/Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) and Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia/Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI).

During 1996-1997 period, the first two regional indigenous peoples organizations were established, namely Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Kalimantan Barat and JAGAT in East Nusa Tenggara. In the same period, a number of NGO networks were growing and taking up indigenous peoples’ issues as one of their priority concerns. JKPP, Konsortium Pendukung Sistem Hutan Kerakyatan/Consortium for Supporting Community-based Forest Management (KPSHK), Jaringan Tambang/Mining Network (JATAM) and Jaringan Pesisir dan Laut/Marine and Coastal Network (Jaring Pela) are examples.

Coinciding with the ‘internal’ process of strengthening the indigenous peoples movement, the authoritarian government fell in 1998. This situation provided a more open political space for the civil society. And thus some indigenous peoples leaders and advocates organized the first Congress in 1999.

The second Congress (AMAN II) was held in September 2003. It is an obligation and right of AMAN members to be present at the Congress, by appointing one person or more to represent each community. AMAN’s members are indigenous communities in addition to indigenous organizations at local and regional levels (referring to district or customary bounded territory and provincial space) allied in AMAN. Thus as planned, the second Congress was attended by more that 1,000 representatives of AMAN’s members. AMAN now has 927 registered communities, and 777 of them are verified members. 18 indigenous organizations at local level and 11 at regional level are allied with AMAN. The expectation in 1999 that all members would demonstrate indigenous organizational capacity, performance, and achievement was correct. In preparation for the second Congress, 12 regional (provincial) indigenous meetings and many local meetings were held as a means of organizational consolidation and to choose representatives for the Congress.

The series of activities leading to AMAN II were carried out through reflection-consolidating approaches. The main goals were: (a) to draw lessons learned from implementation of the decisions of AMAN I over the last 4 years; (b) to consolidate the organization of indigenous peoples and to develop synergy of all actions of the indigenous communities at regional levels; (c) to mobilize broad-based support for the indigenous peoples’ movements through strengthening and broadening of the alliance with other pro-democratic groups; (d) to develop organizational structures that are more responsive to changing situations and more effective in serving the members; and (e) to sharpen the platform of the movement by developing strategic guidelines for organization and programmatic frameworks that accommodate the aspirations and demands of the indigenous peoples in Indonesia. All these goals are directed at creating broader space for the indigenous peoples’ movement for social transformation in Indonesia. Aware of the challenges and main goals, the second Congress brought out some important results. A new structure of the National Council with defined area of work, and set of Coordinators, improvement of its bylaws, political resolution, and programs were all adopted.

In addition to their local, regional and national coordination, AMAN also developed linkages with various international indigenous peoples organizations. In Asia, AMAN became a member of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP). During the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), it joined the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, one of the most organized and effective civil society groups. AMAN has been working closely with International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) both to support their work and join international advocacy. Besides joining the international networks as a group, AMAN also facilitates its members’ participation in various international forums and networks.

Internal and external criticisms

The indigenous peoples’ struggles and empowerment through the process of organizing as exemplified by AMAN does not mean that their problems are solved. The process is perceived as the development of tools to empower themselves for collective struggle. The efforts are not immune from critics both internal and external.

After the first Congress, AMAN’s Board of Representatives met regularly every six months. The meetings were used for internal reflection, discussion of new issues, and planning of further activities. In addition, AMAN and supporting NGOs held a joint reflection meeting in 2001. Some of the issues identified in the meeting, for example, are the problems about the different stages of development of the indigenous peoples organizations that have different needs; the “wrong” attitude toward the AMAN secretariat by treating it as a savior (dewa; penyelamat) and the need to be aware of the fact there is a tendency to utilize the masyarakat adat issues to revitalize feudalism.

AMAN in cooperation with the World Agro Forestry Center (ICRAF) and the Forest Peoples Program (FPP) in 2001 developed an interesting exercise to test its organizational strength. The exercise challenges AMAN’s own “strong” statement: “If the state does not recognize us, then we will not recognize the state”. This strong statement not only challenged the government to respond to the demands of the indigenous peoples, it also stimulated a fertile and much needed debate within the communities on what kind of recognition the indigenous peoples actually seek from the government. Moreover the question goes further: if the State does not recognize the rights of the indigenous peoples how exactly will they then exercise these rights? How should national laws be shaped to accommodate the diversity of customs and aspirations of the country’s 500 different indigenous peoples? What kind of legal recognition of land rights are communities seeking? Who will negotiate on behalf of communities in the future? How will the communities govern themselves? How will they interact with the government? The exercise was aimed at facilitating more in-depth discussions over these questions within some indigenous peoples communities in AMAN’s circle. It is a response to the need to clarify many of AMAN’s demands.

Perhaps the demands are clear from the indigenous peoples’ point of view. But a fully agreed upon explanation of these demands is still waiting to be written up.


Sharing the boom times
Email Printer friendly version Normal font Large font Russell Skelton
May 23, 2008

Illustration: Dyson

Other related coverage
Warren Mundine Indigenous people don’t need another bulging bureaucracy
Aboriginal communities have so far missed out on the riches from mining, but Jenny Macklin’s radical plan should change this.

AS INDIGENOUS Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin pointed out in her landmark Mabo lecture this week it remains a great Australian paradox that traditional owners of the land are often the poorest people living on it. Alongside vast open-cut mines in the far north, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be found living in impoverished conditions, dependent on sit-down money. As highly paid mine workers fly in and fly out, indigenous Australians are missing out on the boom — the most extraordinary in Australia’s history.

How then to get indigenous Australia work-ready to participate in the boom? How also to ensure that the hundreds of millions of dollars being generated in mining royalties and other payments are not squandered on individuals and clans but spent on improved housing, education and long term jobs?

These are fundamental issues. They must be urgently addressed if the Rudd Government’s declared policy of closing the gap between remote communities and mainstream Australia is to have realistic meaning. Without skilled work Aborigines in the far north are condemned to welfare dependency, living two or three families to a house and battling the related problems of alcohol, domestic violence, child abuse and premature death.

It would be difficult to underestimate the significance of Macklin’s lecture. Her pragmatic blueprint for reform — aimed at forging a new economic future for indigenous communities off the back of the mining boom — has been widely endorsed, including by Dr Sharman Stone, the Opposition spokeswoman on indigenous issues.

This is the most significant shift in indigenous policy since the Howard government’s 2007 emergency intervention shocked the nation out of a deep complacency over violence and abuse in the remote communities. That was a tough response shaped by preconceived solutions to entrenched problems but was flawed by a lack of independent performance criteria to accurately measure progress, relying instead on prescriptive measures, such as the abolition of CDEP (work-for-the-dole), the quarantining of all welfare payments and the token suspension of land rights in townships. It lacked strategic clarity when it came to job creation.

Macklin’s approach provides a significant policy advance, a valuable add-on to Howard’s intervention. The minister emphatically rejects the tired old debate of ideology versus pragmatism, saying that it has been an indulgence that has ignored the welfare of a generation of indigenous children.

She repudiates ideologically based solutions and takes a swipe at the Left of her own party and the indigenous establishment feeding off government funds and royalty money, declaring that they have failed indigenous Australians.

What Macklin proposes is fundamental reform of Native Title and the Aboriginal organisations fed on royalty money. She wants a review of the legislative architecture of government that props them up with privileged status. To achieve this she has proposed three strategic interventions.

First, streamlining of the process for judging land claims. The present claims backlog runs to 30 years and is costing all parties hundreds of millions to resolve. Emphasis is now likely to be on constructive negotiations.

Second, reform the Native Title act to ensure that Native Title bodies are better resourced, accountable and representative of members. Macklin noted that there is an inadequate statutory framework for these bodies, weak accountability arrangements and not enough funding to get the work done.

Third, an overhaul of the way royalty and other payments to native titleholders are allocated, spent and administered. Macklin wants money — in the case of the Pilbara region it is hundreds of millions of dollars — spent on employment, financial literacy training and investment in children, such as child care. She wants money paid to communities, not individuals or clans.

Endemic problems surrounding the payment of royalty money were first identified years ago in the Woodward Report and the NT Reeves Inquiry. Reeves urged that royalty associations and land councils be made transparent and fully accountable. The cash box Centrecorp Trust, a creation of the Central Land Council, has accumulated assets of more than $100 million and generates millions of dollars a year in income. But trust beneficiaries have little idea how funds are spent.

Reeves concluded the lack of specific policies for the payment of royalty money created confusion and the general dissipation of funds on a range of purposes. He recommended money be spent on social and economic advancement and urged the adoption of concrete policy directions enshrined in legislation.

Macklin, who sees job creation as an answer to disadvantage, has decided to take the issue on. Reform will not be easy especially as she initially appears to be relying on good will and mutual common interest rather than hard-edged legislative reform.

But there is reason for her optimism. Rio’s groundbreaking agreement for the Argyle diamond mine has resulted in jobs, skills and community development. Spinifex and Gemco on Groote Island have also been pacesetters.

Indigenous attitudes are also changing. Former ALP president and indigenous leader Warren Mundine strongly endorses the move, arguing that harnessing the minerals boom is the biggest challenge facing Aboriginal people. Like Macklin he dismisses the debate over rights, saying it has little meaning for people trapped on welfare with no way of building a future.

There is certain to be opposition from some quarters especially from those who have benefited from the present porous royalty system devoid of strict reporting and rigorous accountability.

Bringing about a fundamental change in the culture presents Macklin with her most significant challenge to date. There are risks, especially if the new approach is not enshrined in legislation.

Some organisations will embrace the new approach, others may not. The potential danger is that without unifying regulation indigenous Australia could be left with a patchwork quilt of inequality.

Russell Skelton is a contributing editor.


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