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Dayak Take Mining Company to Court for Violating Land Rights

The Dayak, indigenous peoples of Borneo, are demanding justice in a recent lawsuit they filed against the gold mining company Indo Muro Kencana (IMK). Twelve representatives from the Dayak Siang, Muring and Bakumpai communities have arrived in court to testify about the company’s mining activities in Central Kalimantan. Through the trial process, the Dayaks hope to retrieve customary land rights and resource and traditional mining rights. Several Dayak community members sat in the witness box on February 6 and testified against the IMK.

“IMK took over our mining pits, houses and gardens. IMK made us leave our gardens when the crops were ready for harvest. Not only that, IMK also destroyed our graveyards and sacred places that we have protected and respected,” said one witness. Other witnesses, significant to the Dayak case, also presented their experiences with the IMK’s incursion into their territory. Some of them talked about the personal hardships that they have gone through while working for IMK.

Linga, a former IMK employee, told the court how emotionally grueling his work was. Linga decided to quit because he could not bear to take orders, which included evicting his fellow villagers from their homes and stopping their traditional mining activities. A third witness, Sakung, an 80 year-old former Dayak leader, talked about the history and tradition of Dayak mining. According to Sakung, local Dayak communities were mining for gold long before the Dutch arrival in Indonesia. Traditional gold mining presents not only a means for survival, but also gold has allowed their children to go to school and receive education.

Indo Muro Kencana came into the area in 1986 and settled on Dayak land. With the assistance of the local police, IMK forced villagers out of their homes, destroying everything: their homes, their mines, and their crops. IMK’s activities have left a permanent impact on both the land and the unique Dayak culture. Currently, affected Dayak communities survive only on limited agricultural activities. Many Dayak children have dropped out of school or haven’t been able to continue to advanced levels of schooling, as a result of declining family income. IMK’s operations have also had a huge impact on the environment. Pollution of rivers and streams has diminished fish populations, a major blow to the Dayak, who rely on fish for food.

The Dayak are scattered throughout southern and western Borneo, in both East Malaysia and Indonesian Kalimantan. Since the 1960s, the Dayak have experienced forest exploitation and intrusive development on their lands and have been struggling to maintain their traditional land management and their culture. Dayak communities hope that the trial will bring IMK to justice and return to them the control of their lands.