The Iban Sebaruk Indigenous Peoples Strengthen their Customary Institutions

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In Sanggau District, West Kalimantan Province in Indonesia, more than 6,000 indigenous Iban Sebaruk people were involved in Institut Dayakologi’s project of strengthening their customary institution for an effective and credible customary law system.

They began with an assessment of the Iban Sebaruk Customary Administration as the highest legal authority and the indigenous territories under its jurisdiction. The series of workshops spread over a period of one year from June 2017 to May 2018 was attended by customary administrators, indigenous leaders, women, and youth from fourteen villages (or kampongs). The project’s objectives were explained and disseminated to all participants for them to appreciate the need to strengthen customary institutions and customary Laws.

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Workshop topics varied: strategic planning and organizational development; strength and credibility of Iban Sebaruk Customary Administration; functions, operations, criteria, selection and appointment system of Ketemenggungan in accordance with the current conditions;  strengthening customary institutions and spatial planning of Iban Sebaruk Indigenous Territory; electing and authorizing the Temenggung and customary officials through deliberation and democratic process; leadership, protection of indigenous territory, critical law, human rights and indigenous peoples' rights, and gender equality; and the existence of traditional institutions and Dayak culture. The Customary Assembly’s SOPs, job description, functions and responsibilities were explained. Within the year, the workshop results of the function of traditional authorities and their administrative support were disseminated in all 14 villages in the Iban Sebaru region.

After the workshops, lobby work followed aimed at policy formulation on the recognition of indigenous territory and customary institution of Iban Sebaruk, and for the local government to authorize Ketemenggungan to implement customary law and protect indigenous territories. A focused group discussion was also conducted with the Department of Education and Culture. The indigenous territory of Iban Sebaruk Administrative district was registered for recognition as customary forest and village by the states after the documents required such as maps, social data of Iban Sebaruk customary administration, and structure of customary institution, were submitted to the local district government for verification.

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Participatory mapping of indigenous territories was conducted and the 14 maps were  all ratified. Within the year, the process of restitution and traditional rituals in all territories of Ketemenggungan was documented. Then, a book on customs and traditional institutions of Iban Sebaruk indigenous peoples was written and published.

Monitoring and evaluation were regularly and effectively done by the project implementers to ensure effectivity of the project which yielded valuable results. Significantly, there are now women representatives in the Iban Sebaruk administrative institution. Yuliana Ita said that “The project was helpful especially for us women in this kampong because of the trainings on gender equality which made us realize our rights and position in society.” However, their participation and role and that of the youth in protecting the indigenous territory and managing natural resources based on local knowledge are still not optimized.

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The training workshops developed the administration’s capacity to operate effectively with clear structure and applicable and flexible functions. Customary law has become the basis for solving problems faced by indigenous peoples in the territory. Particularly, the new customary law that bans selling of land to outsiders is a result of an agreement among the customary leaders.

Challenges continue to hound the project, however,  such as land conflict between the Iban Sebaruk people and oil palm plantation companies. The latter’s expanding operations on indigenous territory has led to loss of indigenous peoples’ land. The presence of large-scale companies has affected the mind set of people, including the customary leaders. Modernization and industrialization are pervasive, such that some consciously and unconsciously depart from their traditional knowledge. Despite awareness of customary law and indigenous knowledge, there is a lack of regeneration because of the youth’s lack  of interest and enthusiasm in knowing the customs, culture and local knowledge. Also, some indigenous leaders are government-appointed and influenced, thus they have no authority and independence, and they ignore the community’s voice.

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The villages in Iban Sebaruk districts are far and the roads are bad, limiting access to far-flung areas. It was also difficult to gather the community for meetings because most of them work as laborers in oil palm plantations, or farmers who spend more time in their fields during the farming season.

The recognition process of indigenous peoples’ territory and customary institution is not over yet. Foremost is advocacy at the grass root level that entails capacity building to empower and educate people on customary practices and enforcement of customary law. The Iban Sebaruk community became braver and more confident in enforcing customary laws in cases of violation. The project has taught the communities that advocacy and lobby work with the government is vital for the legal and formal recognition of indigenous territory and forest to prevent land grabbing by outsiders such as oil palm and mining companies. Customary administrative leader Yordanus Hatta shared that “As a trusted leader, I have to have a lot of courage to practice the customary law. We gained knowledge about our rights and we also know that our customary law is being respected by the states. These make us more confident in enforcing the Iban Sebaruk customary law, as we punish an oil palm company that entered our indigenous territory without our permission.”

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The project’s success was achieved with the efforts of all stakeholders especially activists who bravely asserted the right to self-determination, and consistently worked hard to organize the community and lobby for policy to the village and district governments. Their creativity and determination were crucial to strengthening the organization.

Customary law favours traditional healer Nyunta who said, “I feel like I am being ‘accepted again’ and my knowledge is being appreciated by the community. As we know, traditional healing is often seen as black magic especially by various religions coming to our village. Now, I feel more confident in practicing my indigenous knowledge to heal people.”

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(The project “Strengthening the Customary Institution of Iban Sebaruk Indigenous Peoples for Realizing Effective and Credible Customary Law System” was implemented by the Institut Dayakologi from  June 2017 to May 2018 with the support of PAWANKA Fund.)