Strengthening Each Other to Protect Indigenous Forests

On the second day of the Earth and People Festival (Festival Bumi dan Manusia ) at Huta Ginjang (Friday, 20/5/2022), the Indigenous Peoples (IP) community was given the opportunity to share their experiences about the struggle to protect customary forests. That afternoon, all festival participants listened carefully to the story.

The Indigenous Peoples of Si Opat Marga, Bius Huta Ginjang (Rajagukguk, Simare-mare, Aritonang and Siregar) expressed their gratitude for receiving the Decree of Customary Forest Designation from the State in early February 2022.

“For six years we have been fighting for our customary territory; finally we got what we were looking for. We have received the Decree of Indigenous Forest Designation from President Jokowi”.

Op. Dimas Siregar, one of the community leaders, also recounted how he had to travel to Jakarta on behalf of the community to take care of the administrative needs of the customary territory.

“It wasn’t that I wasn’t tired; the struggle was just very tiring. However, I realised that all the sweat that was poured out would result in something good” he explained.

The Joys and Sorrows of Op. Bolus Indigenous Community

Jaspayer Simanjuntak, often called Pak Rini, from the Op. Bolus Indigenous Community also shared the struggles of his community.

“Several years ago, the Op. Bolus IP Community was invited to work together by PT TPL. In this form, we were allowed to plant intercropping on eucalyptus land which is actually our customary land. We planted 6 (six) cans of corn seeds but did not produce a single grain of corn. The corn that we planted did not grow because all the fertiliser that we gave to the corn was absorbed by the eucalyptus plants” he explained with a disappointed face because he felt disadvantaged in the collaboration.

After the incident, the MA Op. Bolus Community severed the cooperation relationship with the company. Since then, the MA Op. Bolus Community realised that they were not sovereign in their own ancestral lands.

He also shared how the Op. Bolus MA Community was pessimistic in 2008-2015. They did nothing because they did not have any knowledge about the law, until 2015 they met KSPPM. Since then KSPPM has provided legal assistance and regularly visits their village to organise discussions or provide motivation related to their struggle.

“After much discussion on the law, we have managed to regain control of 1/3 of our 2608 hectares of customary land. We planted it with watermelon and rice”.

The Op. Bolus IP Community brought the watermelon harvest to the Earth and People Festival so that all festival participants could taste the harvest from the land of struggle and to prove that the land that has been fought for is managed properly.

Members of the Op. Bolus IP Community has experienced criminalisation during demonstrations. In December 2015, during the celebration of Human Rights Day, Jaspayer Simanjuntak, the leader of the event, was accused of defamation of the Regent of North Tapanuli. However, the criminalisation did not dampen the spirit of MA Komunitas Op. Bolus in their struggle.

“We regularly hold discussions every month to sharpen critical thinking and increase the knowledge of community members. We will also continue to control our customary land to give it to community members who do not have agricultural land. Not receiving the decree does not mean we have lost,” he said during the experience-sharing session.

Stories from the Sihaporas MA Community in Simalungun

Mrs Boru Silalahi from the Op. Mamottang Laut Community, Sihaporas, recounts her community’s struggle that has been ongoing since 1998. Their struggle for around 2000 ha of customary land has been marred by criminalisation. Her husband (Thomson Ambarita) was arrested twice by the police and jailed for six months in 2019.

“We reclaimed our ompung’s land that was taken by the state and companies. We planted the land, but our crops were destroyed by the TPL people” he said loudly and with a mixture of sadness visible on his face. To deal with this, the Sihaporas MA Community takes turns guarding the land. The women guard the fields during the day, while the men and youth are on duty at night.

They face many challenges in guarding the land, one of which is the arrival of intruders who damage all the plants (ginger, corn, macadamia, jengkol, pete, etc.).

“There are 7 (seven) Op. Mamottang Laut rituals that we still perform. We are not at all ashamed even though we are often regarded as devil worshippers. Not only that, we also have obstacles when performing Toba traditional rituals because we live in the Simalungun region,” he explained.

In my opinion, sharing stories of struggle like this is important and must be done. In addition to increasing the spirit of struggle, other IP communities who listen can draw experiences from it, especially when facing criminalisation from state apparatus and companies. All IP communities should realise that the decree given by the state does not determine the victory or defeat of a struggle. The Op. Bolus Community and Sihaporas Community can be used as good examples of how IPs reclaim land that has been taken from them for decades and plant and care for the plants that grow on it.**
(Romian Siagian)

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