TAKE ACTION to save Indonesia's indigenous peoples in the Kalmantan Forest

| 21st February 2012
Pak Singko, one of the elder of Dayak Benuaq indigenous community in Kalimantan, Indonesia looking at the coal mining area that used to be their forests. Photos by EIA

Pak Singko, one of the elder of Dayak Benuaq indigenous community in Kalimantan, Indonesia looking at the coal mining area that used to be their forests. Photos by Telapak

The Dayak Benua community of Muara Tae, Indonesia, are fighting to protect their ancestral forests from a mining company. The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency has now launched a campaign to assist

When a neighbouring community sold their land to major palm oil companies, the people of Muara Tae didn't imagine that it would one day lead to the devastation of their own land, land that they are determined not to sell. However, after the clearance of surrounding land, the mining company started moving into the Dayak community territory and have claimed over half of the 10 thousand hectares of land. Backed by the police and army, the mining companies are stronger and more powerful than the tribe can handle.

According to Indonesian law, traditional communities are allowed to keep their ancestral forest if they can prove their long rights. In a recent film clip by Al Jazeera, Hadi Daryanto from the Indonesian Forestry Ministry said, ‘If the provisional government has recognised this forest as an ancestral forest, it means the government can take ownership on behalf of the community so nobody is allowed to sell these trees anymore. The government can intervene and tell the companies to stop working.'

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has reported on the severity of the issue. During their time there, two community members, Pak Asuy and Pak Singko explained to them that ‘if they lost this forest, they will die - they have nowhere to go. Their water, their food, and the futures of their children all depend on this land.'

It is because of the sustainable lifestyle of the indigenous people that the forest has flourished until present day. It is these same sustainable uses of the forest that can lead Indonesia on the path towards achieving the President Yudhoyono's promises of reducing carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2020. However, progress in implementing any of these plans has been slow.

‘It's widely recognised, albeit not universally, that safeguarding the rights of forest-dependent communities is key to efforts to reduce deforestation,' EIA forest campaigner, Tom Johnson, told the Ecologist. ‘Research has shown that the Dayak Benuaq have used their forests sustainably during the past 300 years and that, given secure tenure and access to markets for forest products, they could continue to do so.'

The devastation to the Muara Tae land has left a concrete impact on the lives of the community already. EIA reports that the local water source has dried up and the people are now forced to make a 1km journey to collect clean water. Additionally, other living beings have its habitat in the area and are being threatened by these mining companies. The forest is home to a large number of bird species like hornbills, which is the emblem of Borneo. Proboscis monkeys, honey bears, and about 20 species of reptiles also reside here.

Since the 10th of January, 2010, the local regional government official, Ismail Thomas, has issued plantation permits to two palm oil companies. These are the Malyasian-owned PT Munte Waniq and PT Orneo Surya Mining Jaya.

‘As for the latest of the situation, the indigenous peoples of Muara Tae are still facing threats from all directions,' says Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto, President of Tekapak, who has worked with the community for fourteen years on the issue. ‘Right now they are waiting for the district government of West Kutai to recognize their customary rights over their land and forest and their long history of indigenous system.'

‘Muara Tae is also organising their youths to form a traditional forest guardian force, Sempekat Lati Tanaa, which will patrol and protect their forests from encroachment, illegal conversion to mining or plantation, illegal logging, and forest fires.'

Pak Singko, a leader of the Dayak Benuaq told the EIA: ‘We are calling for help from people everywhere in protecting our forests and ancestral land. We are being squeezed from all sides by mining and plantation companies.' This remaining land is all the Dayak community have to survive and their lives will be destroyed along with the forests if we don't take action to put an end to this before it is too late.

Further information: Environmental Investigation Agency

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