Indigenous Forest Guardianship: A Success Story:
How did the Temuan tribe secure land recognition and why does it matter?
This case study shares one of the rare successes of indigenous self-determination in the fight for land recognition. This case follows the dreams, hopes and struggles of the Temuan tribe, one of 18 indigenous tribes in Malaysia, as they resist state-led displacement and enact new foundations for conceptualising indigenous sovereignty.
Although there has been growing recognition of Indigenous sovereignty, the issue of self-determination for Indigenous peoples across the globe continues to be a controversial and widely debated topic. This case study explores the promises and challenges of indigenous self-determination, and seeks to cultivate further dialogue on the ways we think about place, land and responsibility.
Before diving into the case, I would like to acknowledge my role as an outsider in the Temuan community. As a Malaysian, we were never taught about the history, autonomy and self-determination of our Indigenous peoples. We were also never taught about our forests, which once covered most of Malaysia's land surface. Today, extensive logging for development and oil palm plantations has resulted in an extreme reduction of forests, leaving only 54% of land area covered by forests.
It is evident that social and environmental justice can not be achieved without indigenous recognition and leadership. To deepen my knowledge of Malaysia's indigenous peoples, I worked closely with members of the Jakun tribe on various participatory action initiatives. Through this experience, I learned that the challenge of securing land rights remains as the biggest threat to indigenous livelihood. This prompted me to have a deeper exploration of how various indigenous groups, including the Temuans, have battled and continue to battle for land recognition.