Rabby Pramudatama, The Jakarta Post, Tobelo | Sat, 04/21/2012 2:30 PM
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Marginalized for decades, indigenous groups from across the country now strive to get members of their communities into government and gain widespread recognition in a rapidly modernizing nation.
Around 2,000 representatives of various indigenous groups on Thursday participated in the first day of a summit in Tobelo, North Halmahera, delving into the topic of their basic rights.
“The most important thing for indigenous people now is to be able to identify themselves in public. We need to fight to be recognized and then to voice out our concerns,” Noer Fauzi Rachman, an environmental science, policy and management expert said during the National Congress of Indigenous People, which ends Wednesday.
Once recognized, he said, indigenous groups need to fight for representatives in the government. By having people in the government, the groups could show their actual contributions to the country.
“As long as there are no indigenous representatives in the government, never expect [to see] any policies that will address the native’s interests,” said Noer, who has a PhD from the University of California.
He said the government has been giving away the rights of indigenous people to land and natural resources, via concessions to the private sector.
His data shows the government issued permits for at least 44 companies to exploit two million hectares of land between 2007 and 2010.
“These concessions by default would nullify indigenous people’s rights. It’s the source of continuing injustice that has been shown in cases like in Mesuji,” Noer said.
Many displaced indigenous people have turned to violence after having their livelihoods disrupted by private companies.
Such bloody clashes broke out last year at Mesuji in Lampung and Bima in West Nusa Tenggara.
In response, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto from the Presidential Working Unit for Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) said he is open to cooperation.
“Do not take unilateral actions. We, as the President’s working unit, are offering to help you with your problem,” he said.
“I guess all [indigenous people] here are devoted to forests and have been taking benefit from them. I never doubt your commitment in safeguarding forests,” Kuntoro said in a recorded video message played at the conference.
Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu told the conference about an alternative solution to the problem, highlighting buried potentials. “Aside from Pak Kuntoro opening his door for cooperation, I also consider Indigenous people as having local wisdom and cultural heritages that could serve as invaluable substances to the creative economy,” she said, adding that their unique cultures could bolster the nation’s appeal.
Mari said that sparking creativity could lead to the creation of economic value for the groups.
The congress was organized by the Alliance of Indigenous People of the Archipelago (AMAN).