The Congregation Building of Betlehem Church in Tobelo, North Halmahera, North Maluku, became a center for politics on Saturday as it hosted a seminar called the “The Political Participation of Indigenous Communities.” The seminar is one of 24 workshops conducted in two days during the Fourth Congress of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (KMAN IV).
“Politics is not only about power. Politics is how we do good for the betterment of our people,” said one of the seminar’s key speakers, Bondan Gunawan, a nationalist figure who served as a secretary of state during Abdurrahman Wahid’s presidency.
Another speaker, North Halmahera district head Hein Namotemo, encouraged indigenous peoples with political skills to aim for legislative seats at various levels. This, he said, should be done so that their representatives could work for the needs of indigenous communities, political constituents that are often neglected.
“Today’s law on political parties needs to change, as it only favors those with money,” said Namotemo, who is also the head of Tobelo’s indigenous communities.
“Representation should be based on trust. We need leaders who are willing to make sacrifices. The higher the power, the more people they have to feed. If they fail to do this, then they are no different than those who used to colonize us.”
Both Hein and Bondan emphasized the importance of adopting the ethical values found in indigenous culture into Indonesia’s political realm and leadership.
In 2011, AMAN sent the House of Representatives a draft for a law to protect indigenous rights. AMAN Secretary General Abdon Nababan said the move had yielded no significant results while conflicts that victimized indigenous communities, especially those related to land use and ownership, continue unabated.
“The congress will also safeguard the contents of the draft,” Nababan said. “There needs to be a special committee or institution, which includes both the government and indigenous communities, that can resolve conflicts involving customary land.”
He said existing local laws are not enough to protect indigenous people against officials and corporations looking to exploit land, forests and water resources.
Eli Keluru, village head of Keluru, Kerinci, in Jambi Province was also present at the conference. As a woman, Eli said that capable women everywhere should be supported in leadership positions.
“My husband and children supported me from the beginning. I have been able to work for the indigenous community in my village, such as returning our indigenous forest to its original function as well as preserving it, increasing our economic bargaining power for certain commodities, and involving women in decision making at indigenous forums,” she said.