President Joko Widodo (Jokowi)’s presence was highly anticipated at the fifth Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) Congress—convened every five years to set AMAN’s policy agenda and elect its new leadership. The Congress was held March 15-19 in Tanjung Gusta village in North Sumatra. Huge pictures of Jokowi were displayed all around the Congress venue, a disputed palm oil concession being reclaimed by the local community. The venue was chosen as a symbol of the numerous conflicts Indigenous Peoples are facing throughout the country, but Jokowi’s last-minute cancelation did not convey a positive message to the 5,000 participants representing over 2,000 adat communities.
At the end of 2016, Jokowi handed over decrees to nine adat communities recognizing their rights over their customary forests. Although the area secured was modest—about 12,000 hectares in total—this was a major breakthrough in implementing the landmark 2013 Constitutional Court decision MK 35 stating that adat forests are no longer part of state forests. Despite the unlikeliness of seeing the promised Indigenous Peoples’ bill issued in 2017, this first adat forests recognition raised hopes that “more and greater” efforts were to come. But the government had little to offer at the AMAN Congress. Although they announced the recognition of two new adat forests, the one in central Sulawesi did not include half of the claimed area that was located in a national park. In addition, the long awaited Indigenous Peoples’ Task Force no longer seems to be on Jokowi’s agenda. The lack of progress is clearly pushing AMAN to reconsider its continued support of Jokowi: the clock is ticking, and if the President does not deliver on his many promises in 2017—the third year of his mandate—it might be too late.
On a positive note, the Congress ended with the election of Rukka Sombolinggi as the AMAN Secretary General for the 2017-2022 period—confirming a steady trend of women’s leadership in civil society organizations and social movements across Indonesia.