North Kalimantan, Indonesia
Punan Adiu: Forest is our mother, explores the struggle of the Punan Adiu Indigenous Community in protecting their customary forest. When nature exploitations and human rights violence rampantly happen to indigenous communities and their land ecosystem, the story aims to decolonize and counter the status quo narrative where the indigenous people are represented as a passive community and have no rights to speak.
Punan Adiu is a village in Malinau District, North Kalimantan Province of Indonesia. As a hunter-gatherer, the Punan who inhabits the village, rely on forest as a source of food, medicine, water and all aspects of their life. After decades of living in the margin of society, where they did not have rights over their territory, the community eventually obtained legal recognition to protect and manage their customary forest.
It began in 2012 when they started a participatory mapping and registered their customary land through a social forestry scheme in Indonesia. After years of deliberation and negotiation, in 2017, the Malinau District Government granted a decree on recognition and protection of Punan Long Adiu Customary Community. The community now has full rights to protect and manage 17,415ha (almost equivalent to Washington, D.C / 17,700ha) of their customary land.
As a natural sanctuary, the forest has significant roles in protecting biodiversity; provides food and contributes in reducing global emissions. A research in 2017 estimated 55,216 metric tons of CO2 emissions reduction per year is expected if the community can avoid deforestation.
What Punan Adiu has achieved in the long run is a representation of how civil society could utilize modern technology with local wisdom and persistently leverages their strength to challenge power dynamics and influence its equilibrium. The process takes time, but the result has eventually been transformative.
“A land reform by leverage, on the other hand, takes time. This is a reform by which peasants, in organizations they have formed and manage, bargain with overlords or government from strength they have already achieved. … Only through reforms by leverage does the peasant acquire, in the long run, an equitable distribution of welfare and adequate political representation.” (Powelson, John P and Richard Stock. The peasant betrayed: agriculture and land reform in the third world. Cato Institute. Washington, D.C. 1987).
Why I make this story?
Reality is subjective. In a land where democracy is still a fragile concept, the dominant power defines the narrative between which one is real and unreal. With history of colonialism, military regime and oligarchy power, Indonesia and other global south countries, share similar story in inequality and authoritarianism. Those who hold the power control the information, technology and narratives to maintain its status quo.
The indigenous people, as a part of civil society, have been neglected in many important discourses that have direct impact to their life. Since the Dutch colonialism in 19th century to Soeharto dictatorship power and until today, the indigenous people in Indonesia have been living in the margin of society. The ancestral forests have been exploited and it left them suffered with environment and socioeconomic impact such as pollution, disaster, poverty and food insecurity.
But thanks to civil society collaboration and open access to technology that has enabled the indigenous people to learn new approach and strategy to protect their forest. After three decades of his draconian power, Soeharto stepped down when economic crisis hit Asia in 1998 and trigger people power that led him to resigned. This tipping point brought new freedom to Indonesian where civil society regains freedom and started to open new discussion toward land reform discourse.
Within a new reformation atmosphere, civil society groups consolidate their networks and conduct new initiatives to influence the state in instituting agrarian reform into legal law. Indigenous people communities started to conduct participative mapping and persistently seek legal recognition to protect and manage their ancestral land.
The Punan Adiu story is an example of how an accessible technology and collective collaboration are an integral part in democratic movement. What once made by elitist agents (military, government, corporations among others), the new inclusive ecosystem of technology could support communities to strengthen their voice into public discourse and reform.
If a story can influence our thinking and rewriting our reality and power, then this project want to show how communities can consolidate their collective strength and utilize new approach for the sake of common good in society. With knowledge, technology, ethics and perseverance, the civil society could leverage their bargaining position and influence the equilibrium of power in our fragile democracy.
* To read the full story, please visit: www.adiu.or.id