Indigenous Peoples' Day

Updated: Aug 13, 2018

The definition of the indigenous people’s day in Indonesia is difficult to put in words as there are over 700 – 1000 tribes existing in our country alone. The indigenous people, or what we can call as “orang asli” or “masyarakat adat” is actually rooted from what we understand about culture. The cultural theorist Stuart Hall presses that culture is an “articulation”, which means that it is produced from a collective identity, location, and set of interests. According to Western thought, this articulation is produced when indigenous culture is isolated. However, culture itself, like identities is always shifting, despite of it being provincial. You can find tons of folks of indigenous background living in the city, however to be of a provincial tribal member, such as a member of Suku Dayak, you must be raised and born in that particular location. Insofar that the term “indigenous” in our context, is very much linked to the land and shared lifestyle.

Since the New Orde Government, indigenous culture is defined as something primitive and estranged. Due to this, most indigenous people cannot obtain proper human rights—from their own identities, to acquiring their own land. Indigenous people have been targeted in development schemes in Indonesia and the world for decades long to bring them both to Urban areas, but also to mainstream societies. A good share of indigenous population are deemed as “forest squatters” where they are resettled in urban areas, far from their customary means of livelihood. Resettlement areas given by the Indonesian government especially pronounced in the outskirts of Java, Madura and Bali. These areas populated with translok (local transmigrants) that were given plots of customary land of rice and crops, as well as learning sedentary farming techniques from their fellow migrants. Indigenous populations struggle through the process of “urbanization” as well as coping with their own identities in their new homes. In addition, throughout this resettlement process, their natural resource-rich homes are exploited and destroyed by venture capitalists.

After the fall of of Soeharto, human rights law in Indonesia securing indigenous population’s rights was rectified in 1999. 2 years after, Indonesia’s highest legislative body, the Peoples Representative Assembly issued a Decree (TAP MPR IX/2011 on Agrarian Reform and Natural Resources Management) intended to organize an all sectoral reform on policies affecting land and natural resources management. The constitution then amended cultural identity and rights for indigenous people. In 2008, The United Nations opened the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People in securing the political, social, and economic rights for indigenous individuals. Indonesia also has opened legal opinion in 2013 on the rights for indigenous communities to reclaim their land titles and to deem community forests back to the indigenous communities in that particular region.

The rhetoric of indigenous communities is a bright one for Indonesia’s future. We believe that now is the time for Indigenous communities to address their control over their land, their culture, and their basic human rights (e.g water sanitation, proper clothing, school etc). The question for us is in what regard can we protect the intellectual and property rights for indigenous individuals? Indigenous individuals are exploited for their culture as well as their property (e.g export – import of tribal textiles created by tribal women that is profited by commercial industries), how can we solve this issue with technology such as Blockchain? How can also policy makers create laws that are clear and concise to be benefited for indigenous individuals’ rights? How can we also propel more lawyers to fight for Indigenous rights in Indonesia? It is up to us, the youth, to plan a future for our people.


The article was written by Sarah Pardede, IUNIA Mentor. Feel free to drop your comment and questions to

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