Indigenous leader remains cautiously optimistic about President’s promise

RIAU (foresthints.news) - Last year, Indonesia’s numerous and diverse indigenous peoples were given cause for optimism when President Joko Widodo undertook to set up a taskforce to facilitate reconciliation efforts between indigenous peoples and the state with a view to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.

President Jokowi, as he is popularly known, made this promise in a meeting held at the State Palace in June 2015 with the Indigenous People's Alliance of the Archipelago, commonly referred to by its Indonesian acronym of AMAN, an alliance representing 2,253 indigenous groups.

AMAN has long been pushing for more recognition and rights for indigenous peoples as well as their greater involvement in environmental matters affecting them, especially those that pertain to the forests in and around which many of the communities live.

The indigenous communities have come to feel that the forests they call home have turned into political and economic tools for the benefit of the government and big corporations, while indigenous peoples themselves have been left out of forestry-related policies and planning.

The optimism provided by Jokowi’s proposed initiative has diminished somewhat as the promised taskforce has failed to materialize. However, this may be explained by the fact that the President was overwhelmingly preoccupied with tackling last year’s massive land and forest fires and associated haze.

In December last year, the President once again raised the hopes and spirits of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples when he mentioned the role the indigenous communities have played in combating climate change and called for their greater involvement in the issue, in a speech delivered at the UN Climate Conference in Paris.

With a further half year having passed since then, foresthints.news sought to gauge the current feelings of the country’s indigenous peoples in an interview with the AMAN Secretary General, Abdon Nababan, on the sidelines of an AMAN event held in Pekanbaru, the capital of Sumatra's Riau province, on Wednesday (Jul 20).

We started out by asking Abdon what AMAN’s demands are with respect to the action that needs to be taken by President Jokowi. 

“Indonesia has one of the most progressive constitutions related to indigenous rights. Of course, Jokowi needs to take action to fulfill those rights. One, Indonesia has to have national indigenous peoples' rights, and it has to resolve problems and conflicts that are right now happening all over the country. To do these two things, Jokowi needs to have a taskforce. We need a taskforce, a presidential taskforce right now.”

Asked specifically about the meeting that took place at the State Palace last year and whether there have been any concrete follow-up measures taken with regard to it, the AMAN Secretary General seemed slightly disappointed.

“The meeting with Jokowi came to an agreement that the President would establish a taskforce. The question right now is that this taskforce was supposed to be formed last year, so we are already now at least six years late (five years of time spent waiting during SBY's term and one year under Jokowi) from what we discussed. So I think we will still continue to communicate with the President’s office about how to make this happen."

Abdon also sought to differentiate the approach of Jokowi’s administration in relation to addressing AMAN’s concerns and demands with that of his predecessor.

“The substance of Jokowi’s commitment is, of course, a continuation from SBY’s term, but the difference that Jokowi brings to this issue is planning, which he has put in his agenda. I think that’s the difference, but of course we still need action, concrete action on the ground. We need that right now, but the planning, the plan, is already there.”

He was guarded when asked if he remained optimistic that the President would keep his promise of forming a taskforce and prioritizing the rights of indigenous peoples.

“This year will be a very crucial time. If Jokowi fails to fulfill his commitment this year, I think support (for our cause) will dissipate. The indigenous people will be disappointed. But, yes I am still optimistic about Jokowi, at least for this year. So we still continue (hoping) that Jokowi will do something different this year.”

When asked by foresthints.news to make some final additional comments, Abdon took the opportunity to make an appeal for action from the Indonesian President.

“Now is the time for Jokowi of course to really bring this issue into his agenda, because Jokowi’s priority on infrastructure development is also very related to indigenous rights. So this is the time for Jokowi to do something.”


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