“When an indigenous person loses his/her land, s/he is no longer an individual, no longer ‘somebody’. That is how important land is to indigenous people because land is identity”, remarked Rukka Sombolinggi of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), Indoneisa. Addressing the seminar titled “Businesses and human rights of indigenous peoples: challenges and protection mechanisms.” held by The Rainforest Foundation Norway and Forum for Development Cooperation with Indigenous People on 4th of November 2014 in Oslo, Rukka exemplified how land territory and resources provide meaning to the existence of indigenous people.
Rukka’s presentation addressed the importance of guiding principles on businesses, human rights and indigenous rights. She pointed out that guiding principles were instrumental because they recognize the state’s, businesses and communities role and obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedom including those of indigenous peoples.
She gave many examples, cases and instances from the different provinces of Indonesia. This provided a vivid picture on the situation of indigenous people there. However, it also presented a rather bleak picture of how the environment and indigenous communities in Indonesia have suffered negative impacts from business activities. Discussing two cases: one from North Maluka and the other from East Kalimantan, Rukka described how numerous multilateral business companies acquire licenses, carry out massive mining and operate with the help of the government. These business activities not only directly affected the indigenous communities in those provinces, but also led to the degradation of natural resources (esp. drinking water). She also brought forward the common manipulation of signatures and agreements by businesses for their own long term benefits. Most importantly, she described the infliction and use of internal conflicts between different indigenous groups by businesses and government as a vehicle to destroy the community.
In a subtle tone, she made it very clear that the indigenous people were never against business or development but their only demand is that instead of stealing the land and resources from indigenous people, the business and government should recognize their obligations towards indigenous people and go through a proper process to inform the rightful owners of land, territory and resources.
In response to a question from the audience, during the Q&A session of the seminar, whether indigenous people in Indonesia had any rights, Rukka replied that until now the indigenous people had no rights whatsoever. However, she strongly believed in the recognition and protection of indigenous rights by the state, private companies or communities.
In conclusion, she pointed out that the aim of her presentation was not to provide the solution because there are already so many guidelines, agreements and commitments regarding the issue of land use, resources, business activities and indigenous people. Nevertheless, she emphasized that the most important issue for the present is the need to ‘act’ and to ensure that commitments, which have been talked about in many places, will not remain only as words. Rukka concluded with a very powerful statement: “We should stop only ‘saying’ and ‘talking’ about those issues but rather we should start ‘acting’.”
By Eman Udaya, the writer for the FDCIP website and a student of Master’s in Indigenous Student Program at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.