Native landowners making sacrifices to attend rally, show solidarity

File picture showing native land owners going on a hunting trip not far from their village.

KUCHING, Nov 12: Hundreds of native landowners from all over Sarawak, including those from remote parts with no road access, are making their way to the Cat City over the weekend to rally for a crucial cause.

Arranging their own transportation and lodging, a considerably large group of indigenous people, many of whom have hardly traveled away from their longhouses, will meet at the Old Court House on Monday morning, to rally for their land rights.

They are landowners, family members or plaintiffs involved in some 400 pending land dispute cases to claim back their ancestral land against the state government or state agencies which had joint ventures with many private companies to ‘develop’ their lands.

“Those involved in land cases were informed. They themselves or representatives are on their way here,” said Nicholas Mujah, the organiser of the rally which is being held in response to recent disappointing judgements in the Federal Court resulting in native customary rights (NCR) landowners not getting their land back.

The prominent land rights activist said some of the landowners would also gather at the new Court House, and they would hand over a memorandum to Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg at 2pm in the afternoon.


However, many plaintiffs in some of these lengthy court cases will not be able to join in as they have passed away.

In the case involving TR Masa Nangkai from Pantu, in which landowners went to court about 13 years ago to claim their 6,870ha ancestral land back, five headmen had passed away.

The same for TR Sandah from Ulu Machan Kanowit and TR Nyutan Jami from Kampung Lebor in Serian, whom had gone to court eight years ago and 20 years ago respectively. Some of the plaintiffs in both cases had passed away.

Mujah, the secretary of Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), was among the first persons the Dayak landowners sought help from when they found out that their land was encroached.

After giving advice, he would also refer landowners to a number of legal counsels whom they can seek help from to get their lands back through legal means.

The majority of the provisional leases (PLs) over their NCR lands, all throughout Sarawak, were given out by the state government to various parties in the early 90s.

In most cases, native landowners only found out that their lands were under PL after contractors encroached onto their lands to clear land many years later.

There were also reports of attacks, private companies hiring gangsters to attack natives, natives erecting blockades, natives performing Iban rituals to summon the help of the gods to fight their enemies, natives torching excavators and even murder — PKR Miri branch secretary Bill Kayong was murdered for his activities in helping indigenous people defend their land.

Even though most of the native landowners had won their cases in lower courts, but the Federal Court’s decision in recent cases had overturned all. In laymen’s term, even though it was recognised that the native landowners have customary rights over their encroached lands, they cannot get their lands back, but they are entitled to compensation.

After waiting for justice for so many years, all their efforts to claim back their ancestral lands have been in vain. If they only wanted money, why did they bother going to court?

“If the government is genuine in helping the native landowners and to settle this, they wouldn’t have waited until today,” said Mujah.

He was deeply disappointed that PKR’s Baru Bian’s motion to amend the Land Code was dismissed at the State Legislative Assembly last week as it showed the policymakers can’t even think of the people and to agree to amend Land Code.

“The whole problem is because of greed,” said Mujah. Without naming anyone, he said those involved are policymakers and from the authorities, and some ministers are even shareholders in the companies involved.

With no end in sight to the Dayak land rights dispute, NCR will remain a hot political issue in coming elections. — DayakDaily