This series of community sharing sessions were an opportunity for indigenous people to share their stories, learn from each other and harness solidarity. The community sharers talked about their struggles in defending their rights, their land and territories be they against destructive development projects or other harmful policy, governance or legal threats.
The following people shared their stories:
Community Sharing 1
Tijah Yok Chopli, a fiery and passionate indigenous woman leader from the Semai people, is one of the leaders of the Village Network of Peninsular Malaysia Orang Asli in Malaysia. Tijah spoke about her people’s struggle in fighting for their recognition and for the protection of their rights and how the rights of indigenous peoples in Malaysia are consistently denied by the Government. She also touched on the new amendment to the Peninsular land law that would further affect the rights and resources of indigenous peoples in Peninsular Malaysia. There have been a lot of protests on the ground. For the first time, indigenous peoples protested in front of the Prime Minister’s office demanding justice. Tijah ended her presentation with the will to continue the fight despite the difficulty that came with it.
Winfred Nyirahabineza, a young soft spoken and yet fierce community activist, is from the Ssese community, Kalangala Island in Uganda. Winfred shared stories about the effects of oil palm plantations in Uganda and how it affected the communities in the area. She touched on how the community was not consulted and many empty promises were made by the government and the corporation. There is also a large quantity of chemicals used and not disposed of properly. Women and children suffered without food and shelter. People who protested were beaten and sometimes beaten to death. In closing Winfred pleaded for more voices to go against this project.
Community Sharing 2
Cristina Bati-El Moyaen also fondly known as “Manang Tina” is from the Save Apayao Peoples Organization (SAPO). Manang Tina belongs to the Kankanay tribe (sub-tribe of the Igorot) and hails from Conner, Apayao, Cordillera Northern Philippines. Manang Tina’s presentation was on the Cordillera Peoples’ Struggle for Life, Land and Resources. Manang Tina lives in the town of Conner, the homeland of the Isnegs and Kalingas, the Indigenous Peoples of Apayao. Manang Tina was one of the Kankanaey victims of repression and militarization. She was harassed and arrested by the military as she fought for the recognition of their peoples’ rights over their ancestral domain and the resources within. Manang Tina shared stories of the invasion of logging and mining companies in their lands.
Oheneba Kwabeng Frimpong Denkyira, fondly known as “Nana”, is from the Akyim community in Ghana’s forest zone in the eastern Region. Nana shared his peoples experiences with the invasion of Newmont Corporation, a mining company, which was given permission to mine for gold in their forest reserve. This open pit gold mine is at a forest reserve and is, therefore, illegal as there is a policy of no mining in forest reserves. This open pit gold mine would not only destroy their protected forests but would also adversely impact the lives and livelihoods of the Akyim community. Newmont encroached onto their land and began polluting their waters, they also divided families, tried to relocate families, decided on compensation packages without any community consultation and caused the arrests of many. His people want the Government to rescind the agreement with Newmont and to uphold the policy of no mining within forest reserves. He hopes that much more can be done.
Sagung Nyipa, a nomadic Penan, from the Ba’marong community is called “Bapak Sagung”. Bapak Sagung shared how they guarded and defended their communal forest from loggers and logging companies. The Ba’marong community is one of the few remaining nomadic Penan in the world. Their struggle is not only about their right to resources but their struggle for their survival. He described how there were very few nomadic Penan in Malaysia and how all of them depended heavily on the forests. He shared about how simple life was before when they could live freely, hunt and gather and have all their needs met in the forest. Today, life has become different for his community. Most of their forests have been disturbed by logging companies.
Alfonso Morales Jimenez is a Mayan indigenous person from the Colotenango community Guatemala. Alfonso spoke with passion about the inseparable link between forest, biodiversity and indigenous peoples. He opened by saying that for the Mayan people, everything has life: water, land, air, the sun, the moon, animals, forests etcetera. In the Mayan cosmo-vision all these elements are one and cannot be seen separately. They are linked with each other and should be treated with respect because disrupting and hurting one link, will affect the whole life-system. For the Mayan people, they have sacred places in mountains and hills where they practice their spirituality. Alfonso shared the current threats faced by the Mayan people which include displacement, invasion of the mining and oil extraction industries, building of hydroelectric dams, oil palm plantations, loss of native seeds and the privatization of forests. The communities defend their rights by implementing their own Mayan legal system.
Jamaludin Antel, known as “Bapak Jamaludin”, is from Desa Semunyingjaya, District of Jagui Babang, Bengkayan, West Kalimantan. He is one of the community leaders of the Dayak Iban indigenous peoples. As a farmer, he tends to his paddy fields and their rubber estate. Bapak Jamaludin shared the struggles of the Dayak Iban indigenous peoples who were persistently in the forefront to protect their forest and land. Customarily, one must ask permission from mother earth before using the forest and the community made a customary agreement to protect the forest in which they have been living in it for a very longtime. Bapak Jamaludin is seeking the assistance of the international community to stop this land grabbing, so that the community can go back to living in peace and harmony as they used to.
Community Sharing 4
Henry Agho hails from the Aifesoba community in Edo state, South Nigeria. Henry is popularly called “Henry the Navigator” by friends. He has been very active in community struggles of mobilizing men and women to resist the activities of Michelin in the area. Henry shared a story about how the multinational French company Michelin came through the back door and took away the land and forests from communities in Nigeria. The community has managed to mobilise themselves and have sought international attention. They look forward to more support from friends and allies from all over the world.
Deddy Ratih is from the Jambi and also the Kalbar area in Indonesia. He has been working on environmental issues for more than 15 years and as a community activist, joined WALHI-FoE Indonesia. Deddy is one of the founders of the Green Party in Indonesia called the Sarekat Hijau Indonesia, a political organization championing the rights of communities and ecological equity. Deddy shared with us some of the current REDD projects Indonesia and their impacts on local communities. He specifically highlighted experiences in Jambi and West Kalimantan where the project between Indonesia and Norway went ahead without the knowledge of local communities and other parties. Deddy shared how REDD will compound the problem on the ground where forest is a complex system and turned into a narrow business transaction; it has consequences on livelihood and national sovereignty.