Indigenous groups have used the fifth congress of the Indigenous People’s Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) to demand that the government fulfill its promises on improved welfare for native communities.
“Here, in the name of this bow and arrow I brought from my homeland, I ask the President to issue a law on indigenous people,” cried Alexander, who traveled from Papua to attend the event held in Tanjung Gusta, North Sumatra, on Friday.
“How could it take so long for [President Joko] ‘Jokowi’ [Widodo] to fulfill his promise?” he asked, while holding the bow and arrow high in the air to cheers from around 2,000 participants at the congress.
He was referring to a long awaited indigenous people’s rights protection (PPHMA) bill, currently included in the 2017 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) at the House of Representatives. The bill has met with serious challenges and faced multiple delays since it was first proposed in 2012.
Although there are several laws that mention the existence of indigenous groups, like the 1999 Forestry Law and 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law, the groups argue that a special law would better protect them.
The draft PPHMA bill covers several major issues such as the definition of an indigenous community, their right to acknowledgement as legal entities that deserve equal treatment, a procedure to settle customary land disputes and a task force that would handle indigenous people’s matters at regional administration and central government levels.
The government took over the drafting of the bill last year following the House’s move to not include it as a priority bill in 2016.
Jokowi, the man in question, was a no-show at the opening of the congress on Friday although he was previously scheduled to kick off the gathering, held on disputed customary land in Tanjung Gusta – a symbol the alliance used to underscore the long standing discrimination facing indigenous groups in the country.
Jokowi traveled to West Kalimantan for a working visit on Friday and sent Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar and presidential chief of staff Teten Masduki to the AMAN event.
Addressing the crowd, Teten rose from his chair on stage and said: “I was asked by the President only to represent him; not to make any decisions in regards to your requests,” he said.
In an effort to calm the crowd, he added that the House was currently deliberating the bill.
The tension that arose during the discussion was a turn of events from the gleeful atmosphere in the morning when participants wearing traditional attire toured the venue.
The task force, which was included in the bill, was unlikely to materialize, Teten said on the sidelines of the congress.
“The President does not like the idea of establishing another new government agency. That’s why he has instructed the Environment and Forestry Ministry and the Agrarian and Spatial Planning Ministry to spearhead efforts [to improve the lives of indigenous people],” he told reporters.
The decision was met with strong criticism from AMAN deputy secretary-general for legal and political advocacy Rukka Sombolinggi, who lambasted Jokowi for not making a bold move, such as establishing the task force, to promote the welfare of indigenous people as laid out in his Nawacita (nine priority programs) agenda.
“Jokowi cannot address the problem at all if he maintains his decision to not establish the task force. He has to be aware that our problems are not merely related to land and forests,” Rukka said.
He cited data from the Community and Ecology-Based Society for Law Reform (HuMA) that recorded 232 natural resource and agrarian conflicts across Indonesia from 2006 to 2012, affecting 91,968 people from 315 indigenous communities.