Indigenous communities want rights to their forest lands

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    Nick Kelesau (left) and Bilong Oyau.

    KUCHING: The indigenous communities in Baram, especially the Penans, are placing high hopes on Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem to recognise their rights on their forest lands.

    Nick Kelesau, who is a Penan from Long Kerong, said all that the indigenous people wanted from their struggle for the past 30 years was for the government to protect their rights and preserve their forest lands besides looking into other pressing problems faced by them.

    “The struggle to protect our forest is not only for the Penans but also for the whole world. Not only the forest is very important to us, but also for those who are doing PhD studies.

    “I hope the new chief minister will recognise our rights, not only for the Penans, but also the other indigenous people,” he said at the launching of two new books – ‘The Peaceful People’ and ‘Money Logging’ – at a local restaurant here yesterday.

    The event, themed ‘New CM, New Hope? – Governance in Sarawak and the Struggles of Indigenous Penans for Justice’ was officiated by Batu Lintang assemblyman and land rights lawyer See Chee How.

    Nick claimed that the indigenous people in the interior were disappointed as there was no development in their areas to show that the government was concerned for their plights and their struggle for their rights.

    Citing an example, he said the Penans in Long Kerong and Long Sait had requested the government to assist in water piping problems in their areas and for a road to be built between the two settlements to enable their children to go to school.

    “Until now, nothing is being done to help us. The villagers had to depend on themselves to build a small bridge to enable the children to go to school.

    “What we got from the government is not what we wanted such as the ‘Tangki 1Malaysia’. We don’t need that. We need other things such as giving us our rights for our lands.”

    Long Sait village head Bilong Oyau said the Penans had been travelling to Kuching and Kuala Lumpur in their effort to convince the government to recognise their rights.

    He said the indigenous communities, especially the Penans, were very persistent with their struggle to defend their forests because they are areas from where they get resources such as herbs for traditional treatment and wood.

    “We have plans for each of our areas and we hope that the government will approve them so that the Penans will have rights over their areas.”

    On Baram HEP dam, Bilong said the project was not what the majority of Penans wanted, and hoped that the chief minister would cancel the project.

    Earlier, Paul Malone, the author of “The Peaceful People” described the Penan as peaceful people who not only refused to mount revenge attacks but also demonstrated remarkable forbearance.

    “Their historic peaceful nature is shown in the records I have documented in this book.

    “They refused to mount revenge attacks, even when their women and children were massacred by outsiders; and they showed great restraint in their anti-logging and anti-dam protests where excessive force has been used against them.” said Paul, the Australian journalist with 40 years standing.

    Source: Borneo Post Online