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Orang Asli Community Organising for Ancestral Lands

Orang Asli Indigenous communities in Malaysia are facing serious land issues against the land developers and government agencies who actively log and open commercial plantations on their ancestral lands. These tracts of land occupied by indigenous people for several generations are often regarded as vacant land & forest areas or “government land and are usually not charted in the government maps.

The Malaysian law “Akta Orang Asli 134” (Indigenous Peoples Act 134) does not recognise the ancestral boundaries and Indigenous People’s ownership of land thereby posing very serious threats upon their land and their resources.

For the past 10 years, a strong resurgence of community organising initiatives to protect the ancestral lands and an extensive network of Orang Asli villages have evolved mainly due to the people’s feeling of despair and desire to strengthen their efforts to protect their forest and lands.

The March 8th 2008 General elections in Malaysia which saw the opposition front (Pakatan Rakyat) voted in to rule in 5 states gave them renewed hope and vigour to advocate for their ancestral lands. This new political scenario also paved the way for Indigenous people to engage directly with the state government in addressing and finding ways to resolve land issues.

Today these efforts have steadily increased and intensify in their bid to protect their lands from being taken.

Since the early 1990’s KOMAS has been actively engaged in the issue of indigenous people’s land rights by supporting and working alongside with them the past 18 years. In 2005 through the community mapping project supported by KAS (A German International Development Foundation), a core group of community leaders and organisers from the Orang Asli communities were trained in skills and perspectives in this field.

Community mapping has been one of the more effective tools for Malaysian indigenous people to protect their ancestral land against irresponsible corporations and government agencies. A core team of community organisers has been trained to use these maps for community education, awareness building and also for advocacy work with the government.

Creative resource materials have also been produced such as short videos, cartoon booklets on community mapping and the rights of indigenous peoples. A video film about community mapping and the Orang Asli’s efforts to defend their land has been produced as a tool for organisers and leaders to use in their communities.

Each year 2 major events were also organised, namely the “International Indigenous People’s Day Celebration” and also the National Forum for Indigenous Land.