Hans Nicholas Jong, Jakarta – The Indigenous Peoples' Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), the main advocacy group for Indigenous communities in Indonesia, has won a 2023 Skoll Award for Social Innovation.
Since its establishment in 1999, AMAN has been advocating for Indigenous rights to prevent communities from having their lands stolen.
The main issue currently facing Indigenous communities in Indonesia is the massive expropriation of Indigenous territories and all the wealth within those territories.
This has exacerbated climate change, as the clearing of Indigenous forests releases heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
On the other hand, protecting Indigenous people's rights to their lands and forests is one of the best tool to fight climate change, as Indigenous peoples have been proven to be the best guardians of forests, even with their often-limited access to financial resources and lack of legal recognition.
When compared with government-managed protection zones, forests managed by Indigenous communities are often better conserved.
For example, a 2000-2012 study of the Amazon found that annual deforestation rates on tenured Indigenous forestlands were 2-3 times lower than outside these areas.
To protect Indigenous peoples' rights to their lands, AMAN has been carrying out a number of initiatives, like mapping Indigenous territories and lobbying for pro-Indigenous legislation.
"We thank the Skoll Foundation. This award shows that AMAN's hard work for more than 20 years has been recognized as a tremendous fight," AMAN secretary general Rukka Sombolinggi told Mongabay.
To date, 2,449 Indigenous communities, representing 20 million people, have joined AMAN.
AMAN has also supported an independent initiative that has mapped 20.7 million hectares (51.2 million acres) – an area nearly twice the size of the island of Java – of Indigenous territories.
The number of local regulations that support Indigenous rights has grown from two in the early years of AMAN into 159 now.
All these achievements are a result of the collective, tireless work of the organization's members as well as the support from its donors, Rukka said.
"They [AMAN members] are at the frontline of all Indigenous peoples' fight in Indonesia," she said.
While Indigenous peoples have made strides in the fight for their rights under AMAN, there's still much work to be done, as many communities and their lands are still lacking legal recognition, making them an easy target for development and businesses, she said.
To date, the government has recognized only 189 Indigenous territories spanning a combined 3.1 million hectares (7.7 million acres).
As a result, many Indigenous communities in Indonesia are still prone to land-grabbing.
According to data from AMAN, 13 cases of land-grabbing affected 251,000 hectares (620,000 acres) of Indigenous lands and 103,717 Indigenous peoples in 2021.
This targeting of Indigenous lands is always accompanied by violence, criminalization and the seizure of Indigenous lands, according to AMAN deputy secretary general Mina Setra.
In September, for instance, six members of the Marjun Dayak Indigenous community in the eastern part of Kalimantan Island were sentenced to up to two years in prison after a palm oil company, PT Tanjung Buyu Perkasa Plantation (TBPP), accused them of stealing oil palm fruits.
The lawyer for the Indigenous peoples said the fruits were taken from the community's Indigenous land, which the company has claimed.
"We've done a lot of things that the government should've done, like mapping Indigenous territories, but issues like land-grabbing and criminalization are still happening, just like 20 years ago when AMAN was established," Rukka said. "So this award is a sign for us all, for Indigenous peoples and their supporters that we still have a huge homework."
One of AMAN's major tasks is to push for the passing of a law that will codify the rights of Indigenous peoples in Indonesia.
The bill on Indigenous rights was submitted to Parliament in 2012. But it remains stalled despite being on the list of priority legislation for more than a decade now.
"So I hope that the government and parliament will pass the Indigenous rights bill [soon]," Rukka said.
Each Skoll awardee organization receives $2.25 million in unrestricted funding and flexible support to scale their work and increase their impact.
Rukka said AMAN will use the award money to further empower Indigenous communities in Indonesia by strengthening their leadership, support their livelihoods, map their territories and rehabilitate their lands.
The award ceremony will take place April 13 in Oxford, U.K.
Besides AMAN, four other organizations received this year's Skoll Awards for Social Innovation. They include Conexsus, a Brazilian NGO that promotes sustainable forest management and forest-based economies by centering community-led efforts and Indigenous ecological knowledge.
To date, Conexsus has channelled $3 million in loans to 85 enterprises, benefitting 18,000 producers and increasing revenues by 38%.
"We were very happy with the recognition given to the innovative model built by Conexsus over the last five years, and we could not fail to emphasize the importance of the work of the entire team and Conexsus partners for this achievement," said Marco van der Ree, the interim executive director of Conexsus.
The Skoll Awards for Social Innovation honor leaders and organizations that drive change in innovative ways with a goal to create a more sustainable, peaceful and prosperous world for all.
"As global challenges continue to mount, our newest class of Skoll Awardees is meeting the moment with determination and innovation – inspiring hope and optimism for our collective future," said Don Gips, CEO of the Skoll Foundation. "Whether it's stopping deforestation efforts, using technology to ensure new mothers in South Africa are safe and healthy, strengthening democracy or driving policy change for individuals living below the poverty line, these social innovators are transforming our world."
Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case For Securing Indigenous Land Rights in the Amazon. (2016). Retrieved from World Resources Institute website: https://www.wri.org/research/climate-benefits-tenure-costs