Nagasaribu Indigenous Community Receives Customary Forest Decree (Part-2)

A Winding Journey

Dynamics of Struggle.

In early 2020, KSPPM together with the Nagasaribu community celebrated the new year in Nagasaribu. This moment was used as a space for reflection as well as to develop work programmes. The enthusiasm of the community was the same as in previous events. Young and old and children took part in the celebration.

But since March 2020, when Covid-19 hit Indonesia, KSPPM’s visit to Nagasaribu has been limited. The government’s policy on work from home (WFH) meant that KSPPM did not visit Ngasaribu for almost 2 months. On the sidelines of WFH, KSPPM received news that the community had changed its chairperson, because they were no longer on the same side of the struggle. We were shocked to hear the news. However, because the travel ban was still in place, we could only coordinate over the phone so that the issue would not lead to horizontal conflict.

After the WFH policy began to be relaxed, KSPPM visited Nagasaribu, to confirm several things including the replacement of the community leader and discuss strengthening the organisation. Arriving in Nagasaribu, we met with several village elders, but the community’s welcome was not as warm as usual. During the discussion we heard that the community had scheduled a meeting with TPL management. The purpose was to clarify the boundaries of Nagasaribu’s customary territory with forestry. We were very surprised. Previously the community never wanted to meet TPL. We have even heard that PT TPL wanted to give some money to the community including the community leader so that they would not fight, but the community flatly refused.

A week after meeting with the company, there was another meeting with the company, forestry and police in the field (still part of Nagasaribu’s customary territory) to determine the boundaries of forestry and community land. Strangely, only two people from the Nagasaribu indigenous community attended the meeting. When we asked where the rest of the community was, both people replied, “The rest of the community doesn’t care anymore”.

KSPPM is increasingly worried about the steps chosen by a handful of community leaders plus they no longer want to discuss with KSPPM. They even refused to communicate via telephone. Refusing to be prejudiced, we chose to remain silent to prevent the situation from getting more complicated.

In June 2020, we heard that the community had partnered with the company. To confirm the news, we contacted a number of people and checked on social media. It turned out that the community had indeed made an agreement with the company to stop the conflict. As a reward, PT TPL provided assistance in the form of plant seeds. The community has also provided identity cards (KTP) and family cards (KK) to the company as proof of willingness to partner. All administrators and elders who have been active in the struggle have also joined the partnership.

In response to this information, KSPPM plans to leave Nagasaribu, provided that the partnership is truly a community choice. However, if there is an element of coercion and community misunderstanding in it, KSPPM will try to organise again. But for the time being KSPPM took a stand to cool the situation.

After the incident, KSPPM did not visit Nagasaribu. But by chance, I (Rocky) met Jonris Simanjuntak, a member of the Nagasaribu indigenous community, in Natinggir. I tried to confirm the truth of the news about the collaboration. It turned out that the cooperation was only carried out by 40 people, not the entire Nagasaribu community. “It was also not the result of community deliberation,” said Jonris. Jonris added that the community members who submitted the KTP and KK did not understand the partnership offered by the company. “This is just an act of TPL to divide the community,” Jonris said. I then asked about the response of people who did not join the partnership, whether they were still fighting like before? Jonris replied, “I don’t know yet; in fact, even the people who did not join the partnership were not firm in their hearts to fight”. Jonris then asked if KSPPM would be willing to assist if he was the only one who wanted to fight. I answered confidently, “KSPPM will always be ready to assist people who want to fight”. Our conversation stopped there as we continued our respective journeys.

After the meeting in Natinggir, personal communication with Jonris began to open up. In August 2020, when KSPPM and the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) Tano Batak held a focus group discussion (FGD) on the Acceleration of Regional Regulations on the Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Peoples with the Regional People’s Representative Council (DPRD) and the North Tapanuli Regency Government at the Regent’s Office, I informed and invited Jonris to attend. Jonris came with 1 (one) of his friends from Nagasaribu.

A month after the event at the Regent’s Office, KSPPM, ST Taput and the Op. Bolus Simanjuntak Community celebrated National Farmers’ Day in Napa (Op. Bolus customary territory). I informed and invited Jonris again. He came, this time with three of his friends from Nagasaribu.

After the meeting in Napa, Mr Ester, a representative of the Nagasaribu Onan Harbangan indigenous community who happens to be Jonris’ brother, contacted me. He asked for my opinion on Nagasaribu. We talked a lot about how to address the condition of Nagasaribu. After that, Mr Ester communicated more and more intensively by phone, just to discuss or inform the condition of the community in Nagasaribu. Until one day he contacted me, informing me that the community partnering with the company wanted to resign but did not know how. When I asked why they were resigning, Mr Ester replied, “For 3 (three) months of partnering with the company, the community did not get anything; the community also understood that the partnership would actually negate their rights to their customary land”. Pak Ester also added that the people who did not join the partnership wanted to continue the struggle. I then asked Pak Ester to record who wanted to resign and who wanted to fight.

Since then, Mr Ester and I have been communicating by telephone almost every day. We chose to communicate by phone because the situation in the village was not yet stable. Mr Ester did not want us to be accused of being provocateurs. After an intense discussion for approximately 1 (one) month with Mr Ester, he finally said that currently there are 72 families who want to fight out of 89 families of Nagasaribu residents. I was surprised by the development conveyed by Mr Ester. Then I said, the first step that must be taken is to write to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) so that KLHK knows that those who carry out the collaboration are not on behalf of the entire community and resign from the partnership forest.

In October 2020, the community also wrote to KLHK, the Provincial Forestry Service, KPH Balige, the Regent of Taput, the Taput DPRD, and the sub-district head, to convey that the partnership pattern offered by TPL is not a good solution for the community, it has actually injured their brotherhood in Nagasaribu, and stated that the Nagasaribu Indigenous people are still fighting to get their customary land / forest. At the same time declaring the withdrawal from the partnership forest.

As a result of the resignation letter submitted to KLHK, horizontal conflict was inevitable, social relations that had been good, began to deteriorate. The sub-district government responded by bringing the two parties together at the sub-district office, but the result was a deadlock, because both parties were equally insistent on their choices. One party wanted to continue partnering with the Company while the other party refused to partner with the Company.

To respond to this condition, KSPPM suggested that the community can restrain themselves so that horizontal conflict does not increase, KSPPM suggested that if some people do not want to fight together anymore, they should not be forced, antagonised, let alone clash. Thankfully, the community also accepted KSPPM’s advice, so that it could reduce the emotions of the community. After everything was running normally, the community elected Jonris Simanjuntak as head of the community to replace Jimmi Simanjuntak. ** [Rocky Pasaribu]

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