Indonesian Rainforests Returned to Indigenous Control*
By Vic Bishop
When government controls a resource, that resource will be sold to the highest corporate bidder and will be exploited at the expense of any plants, animals or people living in the area. The battle for stewardship of our forests is one of the most important questions of our time, and in Indonesia, home to a significant portion of the world’s remaining rainforests, control of a number of disputed areas was recently returned to the indigenous populations which inhabit them.
As European colonialism in the 1800’s overtook the thousands of sprawling islands which now make up Indonesia, Dutch state rule over the millions of acres of forests in the region was hotly disputed, even flatly rejected, by many of the native tribes in the region. Having been a region of intense conflict for generations, a recent move by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo will end clashes over this matter by returning authority of some rainforest areas to indigenous people.
“President Joko Widodo has bestowed the right to manage customary forests on nine indigenous communities, heralding the end of decades of uncertainty and the beginning of a new era of secure right to land.” [Source]
In a ceremony dubbed the Declaration of Recognition of Indigenous Forests in December 2016, President Widodo formally handed over land titles to some disputed regions in Indonesia’s vast wild lands.
“The recognition of customary management of forests is not restricted to the acknowledgment of communities’ rights as stated in the 1945 Constitution. Recognition also means an appreciation of Indonesia’s original values and its identity as a nation.” ~President Widodo
Furthermore, the accord is an expression of the rights of indigenous peoples, who are suffering the world over under corporate colonialism.
“The recognition of the right of indigenous people to manage forests by the Indonesian Government is an important step in agrarian reform as part of the Nawa Cita, Widodo’s program of nine main strategies to address long-term problems afflicting rural communities, such as poverty, inequality and lack of paid employment. Widodo also pointed out that transferring management of customary forests to indigenous people was a small part of Indonesia’s social forestry program that wants to bring 12.7 million hectares under community management.” [Source]
This is a promising model for management of many of the earth’s rainforests, as traditionally, indigenous cultures have always a deeper connection to the land, and a spiritual recognition that honors symbiosis and sustainability, ensuring there will always be abundant food, shelter and medicines for the simple populations whom live in and near the rainforests.
“Saputra, in his acceptance speech in response to the handover of title by Widodo, noted that, ‘Our traditional wisdom has played an important role in managing and preserving our forests. This has contributed to keeping our Earth greener and reducing the negative impacts of climate change” [Source]
The wanton destruction of the ‘lungs of the earth,’ our rainforests, will either end when they’ve all been cut and sold off, or when we return to a sane policy of proper stewardship of these lands. This small victory is a sign that progress can be made.