Dayak Forum Brings Sarawak’s Indigenous Voices Together In Miri

Opening speech by Dennis Along

A Welcome Supper on Friday night attended by scores of delegates from native communities and civil society NGOs across Sarawak saw a barnstorming opening to the first Dayak Forum being held in Miri this weekend.

Co-host and sponsor Dennis Along, President of TERING, kicked off the proceedings with the key themes of unity, representation and reparations.

Sarawak may be a state blessed with a diversity of its many indigenous peoples, he said, however they all have common cause and indeed common demands in the context of the present aggressive development plans facing the state.

Dancing by Miri children’s group

It was time for communities to speak both independently but with one voice to ensure those who seek to represent them and to make decisions to develop and exploit their lands must abide by the wishes of the people.

Themes of the conference, said Along, will include the right of all indigenous communities to choose their representation and headmen; the right to full transparency at all stages of the planning process; a full process of consultation involving all stakeholders; clear commitments and up front sharing of the benefits of projects undertaken.

MP Miri YB Chiew speaks

The statements were made in the light of the recent statement by Dep Premier Awang Tengah that the state government has identified potential financial profits of RM1.25 trillion to be made from mining across just one third of the Sarawak land mass.

That ambition has come hard on the heels of numerous other potentially super-disruptive projects, including the revival of the abandoned SCORE programme together with China to dam up to 12 Sarawak rivers to create vast energy exports; new port, airport and rail projects; major ‘Carbon Credit’ programmes, on top of Sarawak’s new access to the proceeds of oil and gas.

Native communities deserve to be fully informed, consulted and engaged regarding all these projects exploiting their collective lands and the lands of the state in accordance with the UNDRIP principles on indigenous rights which Malaysia is committed to said Along.

So far, these projects which are being promoted by foreign countries and business interests working with politicians, are being announced without adequate compensation, let alone right of veto, by the stakeholders of Sarawak.

MC – RFS presenter Dennis Ngau

It follows a lamentable history of timber extraction, plantation, dams and oil extraction which over the past 50 years have done nothing to elevate the lives of the several Dayak communities – but rather have increased their hardships and brought competition from cheap imported labour.

A raft of inspiring speakers from across Sarawak and indeed Sabah, whose indigenous peoples are facing the same problems and lack of representation in decision making, are due to speak over the weekend.

Dennis Along was followed by the Miri DAP MP YB Chiew, who said he was happy and surprised to be part of this united gathering which was the first of its kind to take place.

Dr Roland Matu

Dr Roland Matu reminded “Sarawak is unique, we are unique . But we struggle over these land issues.  It happens every way. Without land, without tradition, we are dead. We are done.”

He was succeeded by Dr John Brian Anthony a veteran champion of native rights and now President of Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak Baru (PBDSB) which will field independent candidates in coming elections.  He raised the pressing issue of the continuing lack of MyCad access for remote and disempowered native peoples

Dr John Brian Anthony

Dr John Brian also advocated for the Dayak communities to issue a declaration of demands to recognise rights that have been ignored and reparations that have been neglected. There should be a priority programme to uplift the welfare of the Dayak native peoples, he explained, many of whom still exist as paupers in these two high income states rich with resources that are presently only being exploited for the benefit of a political and commercial class working with foreign interests.

For a start, investments such as the RM9 billion earmarked for a Kuching tram service should be diverted to this purpose.

Sarawak’s vastly increased oil revenues and burgeoning state coffers should be used for community uplift and microprojects to help the people of the state before being ploughed into further destructive mega-projects to make businessmen wealthy and remove Sarawak resources.

Wing Miku

The gathering enjoyed displays of traditional song and dance volunteered by a children’s dance group, Bucak Bakui, from Miri and was concluded with a stirring valedictory from Wing Miku, a community activist and presenter of Radio Free Sarawak (RFS), the long-running  online show that is dedicated to supporting the indigenous rights of the native people of Sabah and Sarawak.

RFS has also been a supporter of this event.

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