Claiming indigenous community: Political discourse and natural resource rights in Indonesia

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35 Citations (Scopus)


In late Suharto-era Indonesia, "indigeneity" became a solution to the problem of political representation in popular natural-resource struggles. Using examples from Sumatra and Sulawesi, we examine how the concept of indigeneity was used as a means to strengthen community rights over and against state and corporate claims. In Sulawesi, scientists studied Togean Island peoples' "indigenous knowledge" as a way to affirm residents' rights to inhabit a new national park. In Sumatra, Sosa people became "customary law" peoples (masyarakat adat) as a means to claim rights to oil-palm lands that had been taken over by state and private corporations. In each case, the formation of communities as customary or indigenous was a response to the possibilities and limitations of political discourse in Indonesia, rather than a natural outcome of a certain affiliation between communities and land, place, or tradition. The political nature of this solution becomes apparent in comparing this contemporary strategy with the way claims made during the early Sukarno years in newly independent Indonesia. In 1950s Indonesia, "class" was the rubric that united communities in land struggles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-97
Number of pages25
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Class
  • Customary law
  • Indigenous knowledge
  • Indonesia


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