After decades of conflict over the power to oversee Indonesia’s forests, President Joko Widodo gave management rights back to nine indigenous communities. According to the World Agroforestry Centre, millions of indigenous people cared for forests sustainably for centuries until the Dutch colonial government declared state ownership, and this moment marks an important milestone in the acknowledgement of indigenous rights.
For years, indigenous communities have fought for recognition as their rights have been contested by the government – even after independence in 1945, according to the World Agroforestry Centre. There are thousands of distinct ethnic groups across the islands of Indonesia, and Widodo recently took what the center described as a highly symbolic step in formally granting forest management titles to the nine indigenous communities. In a speech on the occasion, Widodo said, “Recognition also means an appreciation of Indonesia’s original values and its identity as a nation.”
Widodo cited the Kajang people, one of the nine communities, in his speech as an example from which others could benefit. An earlier national government altered the Kajang’s forests’ management status from indigenous to “production forests with limited uses” so the government could control them and parcel some land out for rubber plantations.
But the Kajang developed “a set of local regulations that affirm, recognize, and protect based on traditional management,” according to Andi Adriardi, a member of a non-governmental organization that helped the Kajang regain rights. They coordinated with the local government and organizations to reclaim the title. Adriardi said the government recognized their case as a “good lesson that approaches perfection” for a well-managed forest.
Kajang leader Andi Buyung Saputra, pictured above with Widodo, said in his acceptance speech, “Our traditional wisdom has played an important role in managing and preserving our forests. This has contributed to keeping our Earth greener and reducing the negative impacts of climate change.”