After a decade of struggles against the threat of forest destruction, the indigenous community of Long Isun has won a small victory. The status of the logging concession granted on ancestral lands without their consent, will now be halted and removed by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry, triggering a process to recognise the 13,000 hectares area as customary forest.
Since the issuance of this concession in 2008, the logging company PT. Kemakmuran Berkah Timber (KBT) have disregarded, and even supressed (through intimidation and imprisonment), the claims of the Dayak groups of the Upper Mahakam to their ancestral territory. After a long struggle, this has now changed. On the 9th February, Christianus Arie –the Head of the Mahakam Ulu Government’s Public Relations Department– addressed the press and confirmed that four points have been agreed by the KBT, the community of Long Isun, the Forestry Commission (KLHK) and the local government.
The most important of these, is that the category of the company’s concession entering Long Isun has been changed to 'Status Quo' –a qualification which rescinds KBT’s right to operate in the concession area– acknowledging the community’s right to control their resources and begin a process to request their land be officially recognised as Customary Forest by the Ministry of Forestry. The change of land status draws from a 2013 decision in Indonesia’s highest court, which removed indigenous peoples’ customary forests from under state control. Once Long Isun customary forest is recognised, they will have protection against future concession being superimposed on the community’s vast territory.
This is a huge coup for the community who have withstood years of pressure and intimidation from the company to keep control of their lands.The village representatives can finally breathe a sigh of relief at the outcome of this agreement. Lusang Arang, the Customary Head, had this to say: “Finally, we have had our calls listened to. The whole community has been fighting against KBT for so long, it is a relief to have the lands of our ancestors back in our control.”
This was a sentiment echoed by Theodorus Tekwan, whose history with the company has been marred by false imprisonment for halting the company’s operations on community land. The community member addressing the Indonesian press stated: “I have waited four years for this moment! Since the time I got arrested, I have not stopped for one second to fight for my beloved land. Now we have it back. It’s time to celebrate! The community can finally breathe again.”
The conflict between the community of Long Isun and KBT began in earnest in 2014 when the company entered Long Isun territory, felling timber near the community’s sacred sites. The company justified its operations based on maps drawn up in 2009 by environmental NGO, The Nature Conservancy, as part of the World Wildlife Fund’s Heart of Borneo project. The maps, made without the knowledge of the community, gifted 3,000 hectares of land to a neighbouring community Naha Aruq. KBT claimed that they had the rights to enter the land, having gained consent from Naha Aruq to work in the disputed territory. Long Isun have repeatedly referenced a map drawn up in 1966 (Boven Mahakam) in which all the communities of the Upper Mahakam came to an agreement with regard to their customary borders.
Following the talks, community representatives from Naha Aruq agreed to hold an indigenous caucus to resolve the long-standing border dispute, paving the way for the ongoing border conflict between Naha Aruq and Long Isun to be resolved. The Head Man of Long Isun was particularly upbeat about this development: “We are now able to enter into dialogue with our brothers Naha Aruq, without the problem of the company hanging over us. We can finally end this dispute and live in harmony together after so many years of pain.”
KBT’s Director of Production has been coy regarding the specifics of the size of the concession area that is to be designated Status Quo, yet acknowledged that the agreement reached was in fact the best solution for all parties involved. He added: “We do not want the problem to drag on and create disharmony in the community which will impact our own operations. Our concession area of approximately 82,000 hectares will be reduced, and it will be necessary to change the forest concession rights decree.”
The Executive Director of WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) who accompanied the Long Isun community at their press conference, insisted that this was a “long desired victory for the community. Not all the problems have been resolved, and we will continue to be vigilant moving forward, nevertheless, a profitable solution has been obtained.”
Martha Doq, Director of Nurani Perempuan, the organisation who have been supporting the community since the outbreak of the conflict, had this to say on the welcomed result: “It has been an uphill battle. At the second time of asking, we finally got the result we wanted for the Forestry Commission. I am so proud of all the activists and community members for never doubting for one second that we could achieve this. It has drained every bit of our energies, but it has all been worth it. I am so happy for the community. They have their land back.”
The focus now turns to ensuring the agreement is respected. The agreement was signed by the respective leaders of Long Isun and Naha Aruq, the Managing Director of KBT, the Vice Regent of Mahakam Ulu, the Executive Director of WALHI East Kalimantan, the Chairman of AMAN East Kalimantan, the Ministry of Forestry’s Director of Tenurial Conflict and Customary Forest, the Director of the Centre for Social Forestry and Environmental Partnerships, the Peoples Representative Council of Mahakam Ulu, the Head of Forestry in East Kalimantan, the Dayak Customary Council of Mahakam Ulu and the Sub-district council of Long Pahangai.
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