North Moluccas province and the district of North Halmahera were fully involved in the congress where both the governor and the regent took part together with the speaker of the national assembly and the minister for tourism and creative economy. In the early days of Indonesian democracy, 12 years ago, North Moluccas was one of the regions in Indonesia hardest hit by sectarian violence. Today, there are few traces of violence in this beautiful area characterized by coconut groves, colourful fishing boats and black sandy beaches. It looks like Tobelo once again has embraced its cultural diversity, which was a local pride many years ago. Maybe it was to prove that peaceful co-existence is possible that Tobelo chose to become the host of the forth indigenous peoples congress organized by AMAN, the indigenous peoples’ alliance of Indonesia.
Yellow silk, black velvet and all shades of woven ikat and batik dominated the opening street parade, where participants were dressed in costumes from their region, not unlike Norwegian celebrations on Constitution Day, 17th May. From the back of a truck a band was playing and onlookers cheered each time the local dancers showed off their skills. After the parade, representatives from each region of Indonesia poured a bamboo pipe filled with water from their local river, lake or sea into a fountain to symbolize the unity of all indigenous peoples of Indonesia.
The rights of indigenous peoples, or masyarakat adat, to land, forest and water were widely discussed during the congress, the forth of its kind since 1999. Issues concerning land use- and tenure rights are important to address if the Indonesia- Norway climate and forest partnership shall succeed in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). The Chairman of the REDD+ Task Force, Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, underlined in his video transferred speech that indigenous peoples are stewards of the forest and that their participation is needed if Indonesia is to reduce its carbon emissions. This message was echoed later by indigenous speakers who stress that they have managed forests sustainably for generations and demand a REDD+ scheme they can benefit from and participate in.
Indonesia has about three hundred ethnic groups, with different languages, traditions and artistic expressions. The minister for tourism and creative economy, Mari Pangestu, sees a large potential in developing the knowledge and arts of indigenous communities. She travelled 10 hours and two time zones from Jakarta to encourage indigenous peoples to continue developing their creative expressions as she sees great potential for local industries run by indigenous people. Speaking to two thousand representatives during the opening ceremony, she announced that creativity is an everlasting resource nourished by cultural uniqueness. Minister Pangestu stressed that development of unique cultural artefacts or expressions, exemplified by batik prints or gamelan music, can become key parts of the local economy when cultural capital is transformed to rupiah.
Indigenous women, who often experience double stigmatization, no longer want to be left in the shadows. The indigenous women’s alliance was established as part of AMAN and will pay special attention to women’s rights. Strategies for empowering indigenous women’s political participation and decision making authority in cultures where men traditionally have had the last word were eagerly discussed. The Indonesian Commission against violence against women, Komnas Perempuan, which is supported by the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta, is helping indigenous women in building organizational and legal skills. During the congress, the Commission provided advice on the legal framework for women’s rights and how this can be combined with traditional legal practices.
The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Norad, has for years supported AMAN through its support to Norwegian and international civil society organizations. Internationally, Norway has been a strong advocate for indigenous peoples’ rights in the UN. This work is now bearing fruit in Indonesia. The political support for indigenous peoples is increasing and they are seen as a group to be reckoned with. For the small fishing town of Tobelo it was a victory in itself to host such a large congress for pluralism and respect for human rights against the backdrop of its recent history of violence.