As in many countries in Asia, the concept “indigenous” is a highly contested term in Indonesia. The government is of the opinion that Indonesia is a nation that has no indigenous peoples, or that all Indonesians are equally indigenous. The article aims to analyse the role and the paradox of using ethnic narratives, i.e. distinct social, economic or political systems, as well as language, culture and beliefs as their material and political basis, in the articulation of indigenous rights. Upon discussing a case study from Papua, Indonesia, it is observed that the use of ethnic narratives does create opportunity structures necessary for the struggles of indigenous rights. However, the salience of these endeavours is shaped by how these groups, their autonomy and marginalisation are positioned in the wider context of development, sovereignty and territoriality, which make them also dependent on the design and orientation of the state.
The struggles for the rights of indigenous peoples have begun long before the General Assembly in 2007 adopted the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (undrip). The Declaration asserts that indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or a nation, in accordance with the traditions and customs of the community or nation concerned; they also have the right to determine their own identity.1 Communities are generally considered indigenous because they have a deeper attachment to lands in which they live (or ancestral lands from which they were removed) than other groups in the society settled on those same lands.2 Regardless that it is not legally binding, undrip is symbolically important. It establishes global standards for the treatment of distinct groups and communities and has been an indispensable vehicle for proliferating the idea of indigenous rights across the globe.
Examining indigenous rights in the context of Asia requires a shift of approach. Compared to similar studies in other regions of the world, different dynamics and indigenous geographies exist due to less prevalent European colonialization.3 The concept of “indigenous” is highly contested throughout much of the region, with only Nepal, the Philippines, Taiwan, Cambodia and Japan having really embraced the modern term, albeit in somewhat different ways.4 It is normally impossible to identify someone as indigenous in Asia. Nonetheless, articulating indigenous rights also implies linking indigeneity to ethnicity, for many have long understood the term indigenous as being fundamentally associated with dividing people based on ethnicity. Furthermore, in many Asian countries ethnicity ceases to be merely a means of making group markers. The term is appropriated at the heart of power struggles and in the political and legal process aiming to combat human rights violations. To varying degrees, ethnic categories are increasingly used to capture state power, change state policies or restructure state institutions.5 Encounters with economic modernisation and the negative impacts of resource extraction have been observed to bring about social convergence and homogenisation based on ethnicity.6 Additionally, transnational networks of organisations also present new sources, ideas, identity and legitimacy for ethnic groups.7
The objective of this article is to consider the use of ethnicity in indigenous rights struggles, by exploring its intricacies in the context where ethnicity and indigeneity are considered contestable terms. What will be scrutinised is the articulation of ethnicity and narratives around it, which are story-lines applied to frame the questions of exclusion and inclusion in development project’s deliberation and implementation. Reflections are made on struggles for indigenous rights that use distinct social, economic or political systems, as well as language, culture and beliefs as their material and political basis. To illustrate, the case of agricultural modernisation in Merauke, the southern district of Papua Province, is selected since it offers insights of invoking ethnicity in indigenous rights claims especially in Indonesia. For decades, the Indonesian government is of the opinion that Indonesia is a nation which has no indigenous people, or that all Indonesians are equally indigenous.8
The article shows that the integration of ethnicity as well as their assertiveness or decline is explicable to and implicated by the design and orientation of the state and the cultural and political work of articulation. In certain circumstances, ethnicity and the narratives of distinct political, cultural, economic and geographical realities can create opportunity structures necessary for the struggles of indigenous rights. However, the salience of these endeavours is shaped by how these groups, their autonomy and marginalisation are positioned in the wider context of development, sovereignty and territoriality, which make them also dependent on the design and orientation of the state. Analytically, the article advances the debates on indigenous rights struggles in Asia and argues for contextualising the subject against the multifaceted historical, legal and political arrangements that both promote and jeopardise such opportunity structures in their interactions.
The next section reviews scholarly literatures that discusses ethnicity and the articulation of indigenous rights. The discussion continues by examining the position of Papua in Indonesian political discourses and the extent to which distinct political, cultural, economic and geographical realities of Papuans are legitimised. A case study from Merauke, Papua is examined to discuss the ways the adoption of narratives of ethnicity in struggles for indigenous rights are developing the promotion of human rights in Indonesia. Of interest here is also to understand the process of articulation and how it can both enable as much as disable the enterprise of conflating ethnic narratives with indigenous peoples’ concerns. Finally, the conclusion presents the politics and paradoxes of using ethnic narratives and indigenous rights in Indonesia, and more broadly in Asia.
2 Ethnicity and the Articulation of Indigenous Rights
Circulated during the historical process of decolonisation of the 1960s, “ethnicity” is a contested term and is defined broadly from “the positive feelings of belonging to a cultural group”9 to “a subset of identity categories in which eligibility for membership is determined by attributes associated with, or believed to be associated with, descent”.10 As the willingness and capacity of the international community and nation states to accommodate indigenous peoples’ claims is acquired, particularly through the adoption of undrip, the debate incorporates more concerns. These include recognition and redistribution as well as ethnicity and natural resources. The claims for indigenous peoples’ rights broadly range from the shared experience of marginalised groups from resource extractions and economic modernisation to the negative impacts of forced settlement, relocation, political marginalisation and various formal attempts of cultural destruction.11
The first issue here is how ethnic resources enable indigenous rights advocates to overcome marginalisation and exploitation of natural resources belonging to indigenous peoples. For Anthias and Cederberg,12 ethnic narratives as strategies are seen as emerging out of the interaction of “opportunity structures” and “group characteristics”. Literatures on the identification of indigenous rights consider the “translocal” process in which indigenous rights are being interpreted, contested, adapted and hybridised. This is linked to the second issue, which is the fluidity, exchangeability and multiple functionalities at which (some) people come to identify themselves as indigenous. Such conjunctures present a realignment of the social forces, implying the ways people connect to the nation, the government and their own, unique tribal place. To explain factors contributing to this identification, scholars also apply the notion of “translocal assemblages”, which (1) emphasises “gathering, coherence, and dispersion”, thus illuminating spatiality and temporality, (2) connotes “groups, collectives and, by extension, distributed agencies”, signalling to the complex interactions between and within groups, and (3) implies “emergence rather than resultant formation”.13
Another issue is the articulation of story-lines and forms of explanation around culture, structural disadvantages and ethnic resources. According to Hall, “an articulation is … the form of the connection that can make a unity of two different elements, under certain conditions. It is a linkage which is not necessary, determined, absolute and essential for all time”.14 The concept of articulation usefully captures the duality of positioning which posits boundaries separating within from without, while simultaneously selecting the constellation of elements that characterise what lies within.15 It suggests that the articulation (expression, enunciation) of collective identities, common positions or shared interests is in general provisional. Cultural identities, as Hall argues elsewhere, “come from somewhere, have histories. But far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power”.16 They are “unstable points of identification or suture … Not an essence but a positioning”.17 In other words, the linkage between articulated discourses and their corresponding social forces is also shaped by recognising multiple situational, cultural and institutional factors.18 The concept of articulation is thus alert to the unevenness of conjunctures and conditions of possibility, but offers no simple recipe for assessing degrees of determination or the points at which everyday understandings and practices shade into consciously selected tactics.19
Promoting indigenous rights using the narrative of ethnicity represents something of a paradoxical phenomenon. Indigenous rights struggles are hard to construct and difficult to maintain. They are global in nature, and yet developed around identities that are inherently local and based largely on a common experience of history as well as of poverty and discrimination. Moreover, they are at the same time contingent products of framing and agency.20 Especially in Asia, conflating ethnicity with indigenous rights claims demands more than a normative undertaking. The term indigenousness raises substantial and procedural questions of who is indigenous and how to determine indigeneity, even though the international community has agreed on self-identification.21 In this context, ethnicity and the distinct political, cultural, economic and geographical realities may not always count as a legitimate basis for indigenous land rights despite what is claimed otherwise in state laws or at the grassroots.
3 Papua in Indonesian Political Discourses
The position of Papua as a political and administrative unit in Indonesia has been observed to be constructed around nationalist, strategic and developmentalist discourses. These discourses continue to be crucial in the deliberation and delineation of Papua-ness in the context of Indonesia-ness. They cover broader concerns of political stability and economic development.
Embedded in the nationalist discourse is the aim of asserting national unity and sovereignty. For Indonesian nationalists, Papuans are first and foremost Indonesians, while their racial, religious and cultural differences are less important. The basis is the common history, as noted in Soekarno’s 1950 independence speech: “In our present Constitution it is expressly laid down that the territory of our state comprises the entire former Netherlands Indies … Irian22 is also Indonesian territory”.23 Moreover, the Papuan integration into Indonesia was, according to the nationalist interpretation, decided by the Papuans themselves through their representatives in the Act of Free Choice of July 1969 and it was formalised by the international community on 19 November 1969.24 The nationalistic discourse has later developed into viewing Papua as a key to complete the national territory between two geographical extremes, from Sabang (in Aceh Province, Sumatera) to Merauke (in West Papua Province, Papua).25 In this context, a separation of one part of Indonesia would risk a snowball effect that could cause other parts to follow suit.26
Strategic discourses are closely connected to that of the nationalists, but their realisation can be observed in the military presence that has been strongly maintained since the New Order regime.27 There is a persistent anxiety among political elites at the central bureaucratic level in Jakarta due to the fact that in the period of almost 20 years (between 1945 and 1966) Papuans had developed its own identity.28 Claims on the right to self-determination, the spread of separatist movements and the vulnerability to ethnic conflicts between the different tribes in Papua, or between the non-Papuans and Papuans, are of concern. Papua New Guinea’s border issues in Merauke are consequently seen by the state as a reason for reinforcing counter-insurgencies. To illustrate, the per-capita ratio between population and military personnel in Papua is 97:1 – there is one police or security officer for 97 Papuans. This ratio indicates a much higher military presence than in the rest of Indonesia, which has a ratio of 296:1.29 Despite reforms in the strategic policies post-1998, no positive changes occurred pertaining to the scope of military orders. Law No. 34 of 2004 on the Indonesian Armed Forces strongly asserts internal security by stipulating that the tni can conduct “a military operation other than war”. This includes a wide range of military operations starting from combating separatist movements, rebellion and terrorism to assisting police and local government.30
Both discourses demonstrate political considerations of Papua as a geographic and administrative entity in connection to keeping Indonesian sovereignty intact. Apparent in this regard is the common perception to perceive Papuans as different from the rest of Indonesians, for which specific measures and procedures must be applied. This line of thinking is also found in discourses surrounding development policies as well. Papua is seen as a region that has grown slowly despite its abundant national resources.31
For developmentalists, various impediments (in terms of transportation, communication, education and health) to Papuan development are the contributing factors to Papuans’ backwardness and underdevelopment. Not surprisingly that since the First National Five-Year Development Plans was announced in 1969 development policies and programmes in Papua have been concentrating on improving the economic livelihoods as well as the social and cultural life. Comparable targets are discernible in the ensuing Development Plans that have similar strategies to include the improvement of infrastructures. In all of these Development Plans, the quality of human resources in Papua is always referred to as one of the problems for underdevelopment. REPELITA ii (1974–1979), for instance, highlighted the inability and incompetency of the Papuans to keep pace with Indonesia’s economic development owing to the nomadic agricultural systems implemented by indigenous communities and their lack of skills for participating in development projects. The government views as its task to bring economic development and the benefits of a more advanced civilisation to the benighted people of the province.32 An example is the transmigration programme launched to migrate landless Javanese farmers to Papua. From 1964 to 1999 nearly 250,000 households (or over 500,000 people) have been settled in Papua, living in more than 200 settlements or villages built by the government.33 Notably, while Papuans are politically equal for the nationalists, their situations present the Indonesian government with obligations to develop Papua to integrate Papuans in the development process. The core issue here is the presentation of the various peoples of Papua as backward and primitive, as represented in the official Indonesian approach to the province.
The foregoing shows how the state’s political discourses on Papua are built by mixing forms of explanation pertaining to distinctive cultural, racial and ethnic variances as well as their historical background, political and economic circumstances and social realities. These factors are made prevalent and buttress the centralistic and continuous effort for control. The fact that ethnic differences are highlighted as much as confronted against the agenda of maintaining national sovereignty and promoting development process represents how the state imagines the position of Papua. Papua is part of a nation-building project that depends on perpetuating backwardness as failures to catch up with the modern world. This circumstance is fundamental to the understanding of political and legal arrangements operating in the region, in other words of why and how certain policies and laws are enacted. For the state, making Papuans Indonesians is a non-negotiable and unfinished project of constructing one nation. It calls for cultural, political and social assimilations, particularly between the Papua-ness and the Indonesia-ness.
4 Legitimising Ethnic Papua
Despite various observations on the absence of ethnic political parties as well as the weak ethnic institutions and ethnic voting powers that suggests that ethnicity plays a minimal role, Indonesia still views the prevalence of ethnic mobilisations in local contests for governmental positions as a risk to unity and political stability.34 Historically, the rule regulating discussion of ethnicity, religion, race, and class went back to a Dutch colonial ban on publicly voicing “feelings of hostility, hatred or contempt against one or more of the groups of the population in the Dutch Indies”.35 Until late 1990s, Indonesia was not among the nations that sprang to mind in studies of ethnicity, but when the authoritarian New Order regime collapsed in May 1998, ethnic conflict became the biggest unpleasant surprise for Indonesians aspiring to democracy.
The post New Order period has seen a new layer of ethnic claims, particularly in the midst of the unexpected turn of events in East Timor, when the province gained independence from Indonesian rule in an un-supervised referendum. In February 1999, 100 Papuan leaders met then President Habibie and voiced their “only demand” for independence. In subsequent months the mood of open defiance spread in the province, was banned by the local authorities and resulted in illegal flag-raisings and arrests. A brief political organisation took place and received support from both Papuan separatist leaders and elites formerly attached to Indonesian political parties.36
The succeeding president, Abdurrahman Wahid, changed the approach and chose to accommodate the Papuans in the hope of gaining compromise. Not all Papuans support the idea of outright independence and there are Papuans who hold the view that if the territory were allowed to keep the revenues from its vast oil and mineral wealth, and exercise some form of limited self-government, with a sizeable scaling down of the military presence, the people would be satisfied. An autonomy offer was elaborated during the Wahid presidency. Papuans elites contributed to the drafting process for a special autonomy status, along with a team of notable Papuans comprising of intellectuals, officials, academics and church leaders.37 The special process, in which the region itself had considerable input on administrative relations, successfully delivered the Law No. 21 of 2001 on Special Autonomy Status of Papua (hereafter the Special Autonomy Law).
Generally, the Law represents a formal statement of Papuan values and a means of establishing Papua as a region with self-government within Indonesia. It legitimises specific distinctiveness and bestows the province with political and administrative prerogatives including those related to its particular development challenges. The Law is also intended to correct serious inequality and human rights violations as well as to refocus the self-determination aspirations expressed by the Papuans.
To correct serious inequality issues, the Special Autonomy Law asserts a broader responsibility and more extensive mandate to manage and exploit natural resources. The province would keep 70 per cent of oil revenues and 80 per cent of those from mining and enjoy authority for fiscal distribution. It would also enjoy a 25-year “autonomy allocation” to spend on health, education and infrastructure as asserted in Article 34 of the Special Autonomy Law. Concerning human rights, the Law asserts human rights as “a set of rights bestowed by God Almighty in the essence and being of humans as creations of God which must be respected, held in the highest esteem and protected by the state, law, Government, and all people in order to protect human dignity and worth”.38 Three basic rights are specifically recognised: the right to education, the right to health and the right to social and economic development.39 The central government, the provincial government and the population of Papua are the main duty bearers.40 To refocus the self-determination aspirations expressed by the Papuans, a Papuan People’s Council (mrp) was established in November 2005, which comprises of representatives of major constituents of Papuan society. They hold legislative mandates, including the rights to propose legislation, evaluate local regulations and review regional fiscal distribution.
With regard to the ethnic identity of being Papuan, it is asserted that a Papuan native is: “a person originating from the Melanesian race group, comprising native ethnic groups in Papua Province and/or a person accepted and acknowledged as a Papua native by the Papua adat community”.
As seen, the Law does not use the term “indigenous peoples” to identify the native population in Papua. Instead it employs the notion of adat, which is a formal legal and political term in Indonesia that refers to the hereditary customs acknowledged, adhered to, institutionalised and maintained particularly by a local adat community.41 With regard to rights and obligations that involve aspects of property, such as land or natural resources, hak ulayat is of concern. The notion implies broad collective and individual entitlements to utilise the land, forest and water, as well as the rights and obligations according to local customs and norms. However, collective claims over lands and property based on customary law can only be established if they are found to be “still relevant” and not “conflicting with national interests”.42 Moreover, in the case of land conflicts, the local government (provincial and district levels) has the role of undertaking active mediation to achieve fair compensation for all parties.
Within this array of legal provisions legitimising ethnic Papua, there are many criteria for specifying ethnic Papua as well as for promoting their rights and entitlements, just as there are many agendas for their future. The preconfigured group characteristics of what constitute as Papuans might constitute opportunity structures necessary to claim a better political and economic position, but the contours of those are themselves subject to debate. In this regard, connections between images, discourses and agendas are made. Such processes imply both an impartial selection and combination of elements, story-lines and forms of explanation around culture and structural disadvantages that can form a recognisably identity.
5 Conflating Ethnicity with Indigenous Rights
Despite that no explicit connection is made, the notion of the adat community is loosely translated into “indigenous peoples” in the global arena and also in the domestic context for various reasons. The first reason relates to what many scholars define as “globalised localism” or “globalisation of the local”.43 The international movement focusing on the position of indigenous peoples is locally based but is repeated in numerous sites, thereby broadening and reinforcing its scope and claims. In this way, the struggles of indigenous peoples are both localised and raised to the global level. Irrespective of how Indonesia perceives them as adat community, within the international context the indigenous peoples of Indonesia are always classified in the same category as indigenous peoples in other countries.
This definition clearly links indigeneity to a specific place or territory, which is also discernible in the classification of ethnic Papuans. As mentioned, the Special Autonomy Law asserts that who constitutes as Papuan is determined by racial identification that requires distinctive geographical and spatial connections. It is not impossible to assert both provisions in positioning claims by virtue of group characteristics and at the same time making use of networks and normative structures available on indigenous rights. This is shown in the statement made by the Alliance of Traditional Communities of the Archipelago, a Jakarta-based ngo focusing on indigenous rights concerns:
Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.44
The third reason considers the phenomenon of reinforcing and emphasising cultural identity in Indonesian politics. There have been efforts to reinstate adat as an alternative source of meaning and legitimisation for local claims by regional government. Prior to 1998, the New Order government presented ethnic or tribal identities, cultural distinctiveness, livelihood practices and ancient ties to the places they inhabit as problems, evidence of closed minds and a developmental deficit that a well-meaning government must help them to overcome.46 The political elites of the subsequent democratisation and decentralisation process began to see that ethnicity is an unavoidable part of the political phenomenon.47 It becomes more politically acceptable to employ the concept of adat community as a source of legitimacy for groups seeking to act in the name of society against the state. In the case of Papua, the recognition of adat and hak ulayat as well as the ethnic identities in the Special Autonomy Law generates an opportunity structure necessary for political claims to combat marginalisation and acquire access and resources, concerns that are of interest to the indigenous rights movement.
… there are more than 300 indigenous groups in Indonesia. Each group has its own culture and identity including their own language, customs, and has a strong connection with their land. Each group is governed by its own traditional law which was long existed before the Dutch occupation. During the colonial period, those traditional laws was co-existed with Dutch law and have been adopted into modern Indonesian law system.45
Nevertheless, the translation of adat community into indigenous peoples can replace the specific sense of adat with an international ngo term, and therefore result in a particular connotation of temporal and small-scale societies in practice.48 In Indonesia, the spatial link of the term indigenous often conflicts with the actual practices of indigenous peoples in the interior of the archipelago and the upstream-downstream mobility of in-migrants from elsewhere, or indigenous groups maintaining their identity while migrating to cities.49 As the government has claimed that all their people have lived on their lands for a long time, and hence are equally indigenous,50 people’s mobility, especially in the upland forested areas, has been the rule rather than the exception. In turn, the government is of the opinion that the territorialised definition of indigeneity can easily lead to conflicts and competing claims among groups. However, the term “indigenous” has been increasingly applied for almost all the rural population outside Java, especially regions with small-scale, economically and politically vulnerable societies or communities engaged in swidden agriculture or living in or near forests.
Supports for indigenous rights are prevalent in the Jakarta activist community. The legitimisation of ethnic Papua that occurred in the period of democratisation and decentralisation has opened up some manoeuvring room. The institutionalisation of the adat structure and governance over land, forest and water, which implies both verbal and collective ideals to express solidarity and the administrative desire to employ state statutory regulations, is another important source. The recognition of groups’ distinctiveness, identities and customs demonstrates how the discourse on indigenous peoples is not to simply be imported, but to be inflected and reworked as it has travelled. In practices of conflating ethnicity with the indigenous rights claims, activists draw upon the arguments, idioms and images supplied by the international indigenous rights movement.51 To examine this, the next section focuses on the narratives used in the local struggle of indigenous rights in Merauke, Papua.
6 Ethnic Narratives in the Local Struggle for Indigenous Rights
6.1 The Agricultural Modernisation Project in Merauke, Papua
In August 2010, the Indonesian government launched the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (mifee), a national agricultural modernisation project aiming to achieve national food security. Developing a plantation of 1.2 million hectares for cash-crops and biofuel plantations is the plan that has been carried out by national and multinational economic actors since the beginning of 2011. The government foresees that by 2020 the region will produce 1.95 million tonnes of rice, 64,000 cows, 2.5 million tonnes of sugar, 167,000 tonnes of soybean, 2.02 million tonnes of maize and 937,000 tonnes of crude palm oil annually. The project has so far attracted investments from 36 companies, and it will be undertaken in stages starting from 2010 to 2030. mifee is estimated to create 44,900 jobs in the agricultural sector for both indigenous people and trans-migrants and increase income by up to usd 13,500 per household per year. It would reduce the financial pressure for improving infrastructures and human resources in Papua.52
Affected by this project is the Marind tribe, which numbers approximately 50,000 persons. They predominately reside in villages established by the government in 1990s located in upstream areas of the River Kumbe. Currently, a network of no fewer than 22 ngos (national and international) is active in providing assistance to indigenous communities and facilitating the process of negotiations with public and private actors. ngos in Indonesia have established themselves in pivotal positions in the social, economic and political landscape across the country. Their role has been recognised in promoting human rights and in development, empowerment and the improvement of livelihoods. In Merauke, ngos have been working together with the Marind leaders to produce documents informing the public and policy makers about the Marind people and the negative impacts of the agricultural project.
6.2 A Special Relationship with Sago
That is the title of an article published in the Jakarta Post (an English newspaper) on 16 March 2015. The article outlined the life of the Marind tribe in Wobuyu village, about 100 kilometres north of Merauke, in which sago still holds an important place in their diet and culture. It quoted one of the residents, Martha Mahuze, who said that women typically chopped down and processed the sago with traditional axes while the men cleared weeds and cut down sago palms. Accompanying her was Thomas Balaigeze explaining that sago was used in traditional rituals, customary justice sessions, traditional meeting, weddings, wakes and to welcome guests. The article also described the cultural importance of sago for the Marind that treated sago like a child to be nurtured or a deity that protects and provides. It continued by voicing a concern of how development was encroaching on the Marind: “A few companies have offered to ‘free’ our land, which has plentiful sago palms, for palm oil production. But we rejected the offer since a lot of other villages have suffered great losses”. The news story presents familiar components in the struggle for indigenous rights. It contains elements of the presence of the tribe, the spatial connection central to the tribe’s identity and culture, as well as the scale of threat to tribe’s live and livelihoods.
In the reports written on the impact of mifee to the Marind, the same line of reasoning is also noticeable. These documents generally aim to identify the social, economic, political and cultural challenges faced by the indigenous peoples and are prepared in the course of the campaign against mifee. Firstly, they present descriptions of the unique lifestyle. The Marind’s diet remains unchanged, besides sago, they are nourished by hunting wild animals and fish.53 One report mentioned: “the indigenous peoples of Merauke do not eat rice as a staple, instead they eat sago, which comes from a palm tree that is adapted to grow in the forests of lowland West Papua. Because sago is abundant, there is no danger of going hungry”.54 Secondly, these documents also address how the hunting and gathering mode of production as well as the tradition based of farming have to compete with corporate farming demands. The inability of Papuans to participate in the project implies major labour migration from outside Papua, or defined by one report as a “demographic revolution”. It is predicted that “the project is to absorb about 4.8 million new migrants from outside Papua”, and this “will leave Papuans as only 5% of the total residents”.55 Thirdly, the change of lifestyle faced by the Marind is addressed. It is reported that the Marind has “to go deeper into the forest to hunt” and “obtaining venison from this village is no longer as easy as before”.56 The Marind will no longer survive on food gathering and hunting.57
The news coverage and the reports shed some light pertaining to the indigenous identity. They present the Marind as a secluded and archaic tribe. Consistent narratives on the loss of tribal lifestyle and livelihood strategies are adopted to argue against the project and to support their arguments on group characteristics. By privileging the combination of these story lines over others, the material basis for identity is codified, made explicit and can be appropriately used to build claims on indigenous lands. Nonetheless, integrity of a tribal culture is difficult to assess for dynamics are unavoidable. Concerning diets and lifestyles, there are a mixture of methods, combining tribal and other strategies, as tribal villages in Merauke are not completely inaccessible. Exchange of goods and services are observable regardless of their scarcity. This is not to contest the detrimental impacts faced by the Marind, but rather to present challenges for justifying identity based on these story lines alone.
The Gebze with their coconut symbol, the Mahuze with their sago symbol, the Basiks with their pig symbol, the Samkki with their kangaroo symbol, the Kaize with their Kasuari and Balagaise (falcon birds) symbol; everything will get lost. In other words, the mifee food project will lead to the annihilation of the Marind people.59
6.3 The Non-consensual Alienation and Conversion of Their Ancestral Lands and Forests
In August 2011, a couple of ngos submitted a letter to the un Special Rapporteur of the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, to raise the concerns of mifee in the international community. The letter aimed to inform the Special Rapporteur of “the violations of the rights to food of the indigenous peoples of Merauke, Papua Province, Indonesia resulting from the non-consensual alienation and conversion of their ancestral lands and forests” by the mifee Project.60 It mentioned how the lands and resources are being diminished and repurposed to monoculture products at the expense of the forests and indigenous flora and fauna. In the course of the struggle, more ngos submitted the Request for Consideration of the Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Merauke, Papua Province, Indonesia to the un Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The report used the similar phrase of “the non-consensual alienation and conversion of their ancestral lands and forests” and revealed the additional and imminent irreparable harm.61 It placed an emphasis on the emblematic and expansionist aspects of the project, as well as the failure of the government to meet its obligations to human rights.62
The foregoing demonstrates how claims on indigenous lands are established. First of all, there is an effort to influence decisions and policies through dissemination of information to a specific audience. Various un bodies to which these reports were being submitted represent the sites for acquiring public approval of these claims. Secondly, the information provided in these reports reveals inappropriateness of the project. Urgency is imagined by juxtaposing the scale and gravity of the harms with the normative human rights standards. There is a significant influence of international standards in creating broader political space beyond the national legal domains of human rights and the special autonomy. By focusing on the process of marginalisation, especially how injustices, marginalisation and harms occur, it becomes possible to talk about rights and obligations, or in other words there is now a political basis for presenting claims at different levels.
The documented negative impacts of mifee include coercion and manipulative practices to obtain certification that indigenous peoples have relinquished their land; increased inter-ethnic conflict and violence; and the clearance of the forests on which the Marind and other indigenous communities depend on directly and almost entirely for their subsistence, in order to make way for monocrop plantations under long-term leasehold contracts between the state and private companies. Violations associated with the mifee project also include the violation of rights of free assembly, speech and the right of freedom from threats to one’s physical integrity. 63
6.4 Enabling versus Disabling
The foregoing shows that narratives surrounding ethnicity in Merauke are used to set specific boundaries for group identities, which are crucial to explain how injustice is being experienced.
A finer reading to the narratives reveals some intricacies. They represent a selective picture on the position of the Marind as indigenous peoples in the global and local power constellation. It is not uncommon to associate the ethnic identity of the indigenous peoples with the defence of indigenous land rights. In the context of Indonesia conflating these narratives has been systematically developed in Indonesia by the environmental justice movement, particularly by aman and walhi against the territorialisation of state control.64 An emphasis on forest and tribal issues is also seen by many activists as something that they can work with without being deemed as “too political”.65 The New Order government has generally considered claims concerning indigenous peoples as harmless. With the implementation of the Special Autonomy Law in the region, these claims are considered more politically acceptable.
Notably, claims are constructed by recognising useful situational, cultural and institutional factors available at the local, national and international levels. They entail struggles over meanings, which as shown in the case study require invoking simplified symbols fashioned through processes of dialog and opposition. Regarding dialog, the news coverage, ngos reports and the documents submitted to the un reveal agreement about how ethnicity has to be a constitutive part for the articulation of indigenous rights. Specific markers and common attributes (customary rules, close connection to the land, traditional ways of life, etc.) are worked into coherent story lines to claim for the protection of indigenous rights.
Next to dialogue, there are also processes of opposition. Hitherto, the Indonesian government has remained strongly consistent in manipulating conceptual ambiguities to deny recognition of “indigenous” status. In response to a critical report on Papua before the un Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples in 2004, it rejected criticism that Papuan peoples were not attributed a status as indigenous peoples. The view was that “as a matter of principle, Indonesia’s 500 ethnic groups were all regarded as equally indigenous; any reference in the Forum’s report was therefore irrelevant”.66 The disagreeing view of the government towards Papuans as indigenous peoples set the stage for the positioning of the group, but it becomes harder to calculate the impact of the struggles in achieving the goals of self-rule. Questions pertaining to resource control and distribution of benefits would require following the legal logic of the state and considering the implementation of the Special Autonomy Law, including legal arrangements about adat and hak ulayat. Choosing these over the global discourses of indigenous rights would confine claims into legality issues regarding the process of economic development in Papua, rather than questions on harms and inappropriateness. Nonetheless, a limited engagement with how ethnic Papua is politically legitimised in Indonesian legal and political discourses also implies excluding questions of what should autonomy entail in the pursuit of a better economic and political position.
Furthermore, transnational networks of organisations present new sources, ideas, identity and legitimacy for ethnic groups and their advocates. Niezen67 refers to the notion of “indigenous lobbying” to explain an enterprise that is more effective when exported because they rarely go unopposed. In this regard, the selective use of narratives is not a destructive aspect to the articulation of indigenous rights; rather, it is a constitutive part of it. This conjuncture enables a chain of knowledge that strengthens the process of positioning. The process of opposition also shows the alertness to combine conditions found in the field into information that speaks to a specific yet sufficiently broad audience.
The salience of ethnicity and its association to the articulation of indigenous rights are complex and multifaceted. In this article it has been discussed that while ethnicity and the narratives of distinct political, cultural, economic and geographical realities create opportunity structures necessary for the struggles of indigenous rights in Merauke, Papua, the prospect of these endeavours is shaped by how these groups, their autonomy and marginalisation are positioned in the wider context of development, sovereignty and territoriality. This convolution also makes them intertwined with local and global power constellations.
First of all, the circumstance associated with the articulation of indigenous rights in Papua, Indonesia is translocal with varying spheres and degrees of influence. This implies that although activists and communities can together formulate claims, any claims formulated on one particular concern or submitted to one specific sphere will be incomplete. As shown in the case study, only certain well-established signifiers and traits can be presented to position the Marind as marginalised populations against the state. These are selected because they speak to specific fields of power. It is therefore important to recognise the partial nature of articulation of indigenous rights in Indonesia, something that is observed in the case study.
Secondly, the legal and political context in which the agricultural modernisation project was decided and located reveals how articulation emerges through processes of action and imagination shaped by the continuous production of history and power. The Indonesian government can no longer ignore demands for recognising the important of ethnicity in its politics of development process. Yet, rather than being a polity in which claims and rights can be negotiated with the institutions where resources and benefits are organised, Indonesia has become a society with the proliferation of administrative and political power centres. This circumstance has the capacity to limit political dialectics on autonomy and self-rule for the indigenous peoples. In turn, despite consensus generally existing pertaining to ethnic identity, interactions between legal and political discourses concerning ethnic Papua and indigenous peoples’ rights produce gaps of normative solutions and realistic demands.
Finally, the discussion shows that the articulation of indigenous rights in context where ethnicity and indigeneity are considered contestable terms needs to take into account multifaceted aspects of positioning. The state comes to legitimise and institutionalise the Papuan distinct social and cultural systems at the moment of political crisis. Together with the activists of indigenous rights, the Marind have also come to position themselves in the indigenous slot at a moment of crisis. The reality of the latter cannot be dissociated from the first. But the fact that there are broader mandates to manage and exploit natural resources in the region does not guarantee that the articulation, regardless of how well that speaks to specific fields of power, will bring desirable results. The struggles formed under the umbrella of global indigenous rights provide some new form of empowerment around identity issues, but it also creates a political ordeal concerning its agency. Challenges occur as the formulated claims aspire towards discriminatory measures deemed necessary to ensure the protection of the groups’ distinctive cultural, political and economic practices within a centralistic framework maintained by the state. Moreover, specific discourses surrounding the issue of Papua continue to limit – while simultaneously enabling – the positioning of ethnicity and indigeneity in the case of Papua, Indonesia. As shown in the article, these discourses contain forces that tend to bring simplification and boundary-making, as well as connection on the ground. Consequently, there is a narrow political space to conclusively tackle the marginalisation experienced by indigenous peoples resulting from this intricacy.
2 Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples reads:“indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return”.
3 B. Kingsbury, ‘“Indigenous Peoples” in International Law: A Constructivist Approach to the Asian Controversy’, 92:3 The American Journal of International Law (1998) p. 433.
4 For more elaboration on this topic, see I. G. Baird, ‘Translocal assemblages and the circulation of the concept of “indigenous peoples” in Laos’, 46 Political Geography (2015) pp. 54–64; D. Inman, ‘From the Global to the Local: The Development of Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights Internationally and in Southeast Asia’, 6:1 Asian Journal of International Law (2016) pp. 46–88.
5 E. Aspinall, ‘Democratization and Ethnic Politics in Indonesia: Nine Theses’, 11:2 Journal of East Asian Studies (2011) p. 292.
6 See for example J. Bertrand, ‘”Indigenous peoples’ rights” as a strategy of ethnic accommodation: contrasting experiences of Cordillerans and Papuans in the Philippines and Indonesia’, 34:5 Ethnic and Racial Studies (2011) pp. 850–869.
7 R. Niezen, The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) pp. 165–170.
8 S. Kusumaatmadja, ‘The Human Dimensions of Sustainable Development’, in H. P. Arimbi (ed.), Proceeding, Seminar on the Human Dimensions of Environmentally Sound Development (walhi and Friends of the Earth, Jakarta, 1993) pp. 12–15.
9 This sense of the concept of ethnicity hints at “peoplehood”. In fact, ethnicity has been defined as “the sense of peoplehood held by members of a group sharing a common culture and history within a society”. S. On and C. Shih, ‘Introduction to Asian Ethnicity’s special issue on ethnicities, governance, and human rights’, 15:2 Asian Ethnicity (2004) p. 148.
10 K. Chandra, ‘What is Ethnic Identity and Does It Matter?’, 9 Annual Review Political Science (2006) p. 399.
12 F. Anthias and M. Cederberg, ‘Using Ethnic Bonds in Self-Employment and the Issue of Social Capital’, 35:6 Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (2009) p. 902.
14 S. Hall, ‘On Postmodernism and Articulation: An Interview with Stuart Hall,’ edited by Lawrence Grossberg, 10:2 Journal of Communication Inquiry (1986) pp. 45–60.
15 T. M. Li, ‘Articulating Indigenous Identity in Indonesia: Resource Politics and the Tribal Slot’, 42:1 Comparative Studies in Society and History (2000) p. 152.
16 S. Hall, ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’, in Jonathan Rutherford (ed.), Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1990) p. 225.
20 R. Morgan, ‘Advancing Indigenous Rights at the United Nations: Strategic Framing and Its Impact on the Normative Development of International Law’, 13:4 Social Legal Studies (2004) p. 484.
21 undrip does not specifically assign an authoritative definition to indigenous peoples. Instead, it advocates self-identification as indigenous as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups. However, Article 1 of the 1989 Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, No. 169, adopted by the International Labour Organization does indicate that self-identification as indigenous or tribal shall be regarded as a fundamental criterion for determining the groups to which the provisions of this Convention apply.
22 The Indonesian government under Sukarno refused to use the name Papua as used by the Netherlands, and instead opted for West Irian (Irian Barat), which arguably means “sun” or “hot land” in local languages. The name “Irian” had a political connotation and it was vernacularly understood to stand for “Ikut Republik Indonesia Anti-Nederland” (Joining the Indonesian Republic, Anti-Netherlands). The name was maintained by President Suharto during the New Order Regime, and was changed into Papua by President Abdurakhman Wahid when he visited the Province in December 1999.
23 Sukarno’s Independence speech on 17 August 1950, as quoted in T. Kivimäki and R. Thorning, ‘Democratization and Regional Power Sharing in Papua/Irian Jaya: Increased Opportunites and Decreased Motivations for Violence’, 42:4 Asian Survey (2002) p. 654.
24 A formal recognition from the international community was acquired on 19 November 1969 through the adoption of the un General Assembly Resolution 2504 (xxiv) by a vote of 84 to 0 in favour of Indonesia and 30 abstentions.
25 The nationalist song “Dari Sabang Sampai Merauke” (“From Sabang to Merauke’” exemplifies the nationalistic feeling towards Papua. Sabang – on the tiny island of We at Indonesia’s most Northwestern tip to Merauke on the South coast of New Guinea, represent two geographical extremes: one is located in the devout Muslim province of Aceh or the “Verandah of Meccah”, and the other forms part of the Melanesian world of Papua.
27 New Order regime is a term coined by the Second Indonesian President Suharto to characterise his administration from 1969 to 1998.
28 The Western territory of the island of Papua New Guinea remained under de facto Dutch colonial rule after Indonesia declared its independence in 1945. After brutal territorial struggles between Indonesia and the Netherlands, the transfer of Papua in 1969 is often read in connection with Indonesian sovereignty.
29 A. M. T. Supriatma, ‘tni/Polri in West Papua: How Security Reforms Work in the Conflict Region’, 95 Indonesia (2013) p. 98.
30 Article 7, Section 1, in Law No. 34 of 2004 specifies 14 “military operations other than war”: operations against armed separatist movements; operations against armed rebellion; operations against terrorism; securing borders; securing vital national assets; peacekeeping; providing security for the president, vice president, and their families; providing an early defense system; assisting the governments in the region; assisting police in internal security; securing foreign head of states and their missions; disaster relief; search and rescue operations; and assisting government in securing shipping and aviation against piracy, hijacking, or smuggling.
31 The report by Central Bureau of Statistics (bps) shows that the Human Development Index (hdi) of Papua in 2013 only reached 66.25, the lowest position in Indonesia. In March 2014 the percentage of people living with poverty in rural areas in Papua reached 38.92 per cent, which was much higher than the average national score, which is 14.71 per cent (bps, 2014).
32 E. Aspinall and M. T. Berger, ‘The break-up of Indonesia? Nationalisms after decolonisation and the limits of the nation-state in post-cold war Southeast Asia’, 22:6 Third World Quarterly (2001) p. 1014.
33 The consequence has been a marked alteration in West Papua’s demography. In 1987 the total number of migrants in towns had reached 65 per cent; by 2004 70 per cent of the population of Merauke town were migrants. See C. Scott and N. Tebay, ‘The West Papua conflict and its consequences for the Island of New Guinea: Root causes and the campaign for Papua, land of peace’, 94:382 The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs (2004) p. 603.
34 For a recent debate about this issue, see Aspinall, supra note 5, pp. 289–319; G. van Klinken, ‘Blood, timber, and the state in West Kalimantan, Indonesia’, 49:1 Asia Pacific Viewpoint (2008) pp. 35–47.
35 C. van Dijk, ‘Towards Indonesian harmony instead of Dutch contract: Haatzaai and Sara’, in I. Wessel (ed.), Nationalism and Ethnicity in Southeast Asia, vol. 1 (Lit Verlag, Munster, 1994) p. 77.
36 The organisation of a “Papuan People’s Congress” in May–June 2000 was attended by some 3000 representatives of different social sectors, and including delegates from the exiled leadership of the opm. Many of the leaders who emerged through this process have claims to traditional rule but they were also part of the local elite that was nurtured by Indonesian rule. For example, Theys Eluay, who was elected head of the Papua Presidium Council, was a leader of the Sentani tribe and a long-standing Golkar member of the provincial legislature. Other leaders were local bureaucrats, state-approved village chiefs, intellectuals and non-governmental organisation activists.
37 R. Chauval and I. N. Bhakti, The Papua Conflict: Jakarta’s Perceptions and Policies (East West Centre, Washington, dc, 2011) pp. 31–32; A. Djojosoekarto et al., Kebijakan Otonomi Khusus Papua (Kemitraan, Jakarta, 2008) p. 101.
39 Article 56 of Law No. 21 of 2001 on Special Autonomy of Papua grants the entitlement of every individual to acquire a proper and qualified education, including the compulsory nine years of basic education. The right to health is asserted in Article 59 and it concerns entitlement to the availability and accessibility of health care. The provincial government is responsible for the realisation of the right to health and it is calculated to be partly (15 per cent) financed by the Special Autonomy Fund. As to the right to social and economic development, it involves people’s participation in development policies and projects, and particularly the inclusion of native Papuans.
41 Article 1P of the Special Autonomy Law, adat community is defined as the Papua natives living in and bound to a certain area and adat, with high solidarity among its members. The Law distinguishes adat community from adat law community. The latter is concerned with the legal and institutional context of adat community. Article 1R of the Law states that the adat law community constitutes the Papua native members, who have lived within certain areas since their birth with a high feeling of solidarity, and who are bound and governed by certain adat laws. However, while the act of governance is denoted as the key for defining an adat law community, it is understood in its verbal vis-à-vis non-formal sense. For adat law refers to verbal regulations or norms prevailing within that community that regulate, bind and maintain and bear sanctions.
43 See for example B. de Sousa Santos, ‘Toward a Multicultural Conception of Human Rights’, 9:25 Beyond Law (2002) pp. 1–24; N. Castree, ‘Differential geographies: place, indigenous rights and “local” resources’, 32:2 Political Geography (2004) pp. 133–167.
44 An understanding of the concept of “indigenous and tribal peoples” is contained in Article 1 of the 1989 Convention concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, No. 169, adopted by the International Labour Organization.
45 M. Lamonge, Neo-liberalism, Social Conflict and Identity of Papuan Indigenous People Case study of Merauke Integrated Food & Energy Estate (mifee) in Papua. Research Paper (iss, The Hague, 2012) p. 37.
47 In response the Indonesian Constitution was amended to guarantee regions specificities and distinctiveness as asserted in paragraph 1 of Article 18B. The Article also stipulates, in paragraph 2, the formal recognition of customary law along with traditional rights, as long as they remain in existence and in agreement with societal development and with the principle of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.
48 J. R. Bowen, ‘Should We Have a Universal Concept of “Indigenous Peoples’ Rights”?: Ethnicity and Essentialism in the Twenty-First Century’, 16:4 Anthropology Today (2000) p. 15.
49 See S. de Royer et al., ‘Self-identification of indigenous people in postindependence Indonesia: a historical analysis in the context of redd+’, 17:3 International Forestry Review (2015) pp. 1–9.
52 Despite these ambitious goals, many doubt whether the local government’s earnings from mifee would be sufficient for achieving the goal. If the profits of such agricultural modernisation are organised according to the distribution of benefits from exploiting natural resources, such as forest or peat land, Papua will receive roughly 80 per cent of the funds. If the distribution of export revenue is arranged based on the rspo scheme, at least 1 million hectares (for the purpose of calculation) could produce usd 166 million in annual revenues to the Indonesian government over the first seven years and Merauke District’s share of these financial resources would be usd 62 million annually over the same time period. In subsequent years, the total revenue would sharply decline to usd 7 million annually and Merauke’s share of this would be usd 2 million. For a more elaborative explanation on this, see K. Obidzinski et al., ‘Can large scale land acquisition for agro-development in Indonesia be managed sustainably?’, 30:1 Land Use Policy (2013) pp. 952–965.
54 AwasMifee, ‘An Agribusiness Attack on West Papua: unravel the Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate’ (2012) p. 10, online at <https://awasmifee.potager.org/>, visited on 16 April 2016.
57 panap, Land Grabbing for Food and Biofuel Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (mifee) Case Study (Agra and panap, Penang, 2002).
58 ‘aman’s Statement before the 9th Session of the un Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, New York, 23 April 2010, As cited by L. Ginting and O. Pye, ‘Resisting Agribusiness Development: The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate in West Papua, Indonesia’, paper presented at the International Conference on Global Land Grabbing 6–8 April 2011, University of Sussex, 2011. p. 10.
60 Emphasis in original. Request for Urgent Assistance to Address the Imminent Threat to the Right to Food of the Indigenous Peoples in Merauke, Papua Province, Indonesia. Letter sent by Sawit Watch and Forest Peoples Program to the un Special Rapporteur of the Right to Food, 9 August 2011.
61 Request for Consideration of the Situation of Indigenous Peoples in Merauke, Papua Province, Indonesia, submitted by 22 ngos to the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination in September 2011, para. 1.
63 Stakeholders’ Submission to the 13th session of the upr Working Group (21st May–1st June 2012). Joint report submitted on 21 November 2011 by huma, Pontianak Institute, Down to Earth, Pusaka, Walhi, aman, Forest People Program, kki Warsi, ymp, and rfn. The submission of a Stakeholder’s report aims at providing information related to the level of compliance of the government of Indonesia to those upr recommendations that are listed in Section ii of the Report of the Working Group A/hrc/8/23. It pertains especially to paragraphs 77(5) and (7), for which the government of Indonesia declared its support, and paragraph 78 of the same report and paragraph 77(5) of the upr Working Group report, which recommends the government of Indonesia to continue measures to promote and protect the human rights of all constituents of the Indonesian people.
64 N.L. Peluso, ‘A political ecology of violence and territory in West Kalimantan’, 49:1 Asia Pacific View Point (2008) p. 62.
66 un esc 2004 ‘Provisional summary record of the 48th meeting, un Economic and Social Council’, as cited by Bertrand, supra note 6, p. 858.