Dozens of indigenous leaders from across the country met with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo at the Presidential Palace in March last year, raising hopes among the community that the government would give more acknowledgement to them.
At the meeting, Jokowi, accompanied by Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki and Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya, reiterated his pledge to defend and protect indigenous people. The community has been fighting a long-standing battle to defend their rights, particularly land rights.
However, no significant progress has been made since the meeting, as demonstrated by continued violence against the community in 2017, according to a report by the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN).
On March 27, five days after the meeting, a court in South Sulawesi sentenced 13 members of the Seko tribe in North Luwu regency to seven months’ imprisonment each. They were convicted for protesting the construction plan of a hydropower plant on one of the borders of their ancestral land. The tribe’s status as an indigenous community was acknowledged by the North Luwu regency in 2004.
This was not the only case as the organization, representing more than 17 million members throughout the 34 provinces, recorded 21 such cases last year.
“We were enthusiastic in 2014 and remained that way through 2015. We were a bit disappointed in 2016 and finally lost spirit in 2017,” said AMAN secretary-general AMAN Rukka Sombolinggi.
National Commission on Human Rights (Kommas HAM) member Sandrayati Moniaga said criminalization had become a logical consequence of the state’s attitude toward indigenous people, in which it had not acknowledged “their presence or their rights, especially their land.”
Indigenous communities have long been denied access to their ancestral land, creating longstanding economic and social problems as a result of their lack of freedom to harness natural resources, she said.
The problems stemmed from the designation of customary forests as state land by the administration of late dictator Soeharto in the 1970s and 1980s, paving the way for the massive expansion of forestry, mining and plantation businesses.
For indigenous people, ancestral land plays a vital part in their lives as it serves as a symbol of the community’s presence and primary source of daily needs.
This year will remain grim for the community, Rukka said, because of the slow realization of customary forest acknowledgment and the halted deliberation of the indigenous peoples bill, which, when passed into law, will better protect their rights.
Rukka said the government had only granted customary forest rights for 3,992 hectares to nine communities in 2017, onethird of the 13,122 ha granted in December 2016.
The road will be more arduous for indigenous people in Indonesia, Sandrayati said, if the state only acknowledges indigenous cultural diversity through “symbolic” activities, while at the same time neglecting to protect the rights of community members.
Noer Fauzi Rachman, an expert staff member at the Presidential Chief of Staff Office who briefs Jokowi on agrarian indigenous people’s matters, said he “understands AMAN works based on the promises of the President,” which he said “have yet to materialize in the field.”
Noer said the office had established a team tasked with expediting agrarian conflict settlement.