From the Bosom of Mother Earth


AUTHOR: Yoshabel Durand, University of Sheffield

Hosted on the International Land Coalition’s website

In Scotland, land is no longer a commodity but something which brings public good

Peter Peacock,

Community Land Scotland

Evidenced by the enduring contentious debates which have coloured their history, indigenous claims to collective land rights have once again become the perceived undoing of the very fabric of state integrity.  As shown in the discussions of today’s plenary on Ensuring Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Land Rights, traditional communities’ claims to collective control of ancestral lands have been met with open and sometimes violent state resistance.  However, it cannot be denied that indigenous communities continue to be adversely affected both by the challenges of and solutions to issues of climate change and national development.

In her presentation, Joan Carling pointed out how development policies of state nationalisation and expropriation of lands, as well as environmental initiatives such as clean energy and the designation of national parks and conservation areas, contribute to the process of land dispossession.  To combat this trend, it was unanimously agreed that grassroots collective action, coupled with national recognition backed by international law, was the only means of attaining indigenous land rights. It was further agreed that the passing of any legislation must be accompanied by the necessary and proportionate sanctions for non-compliance.  However, while the virtues of indigenous communities were sung, two ripples rocked the placid lake of the room’s collective endorsement of indigenous rights to land.

The first to rock the proverbial boat was the issue of ambiguity in the laws surrounding indigenous rights. According to today’s fifth speaker, Budi Mulyanto, though the indigenous communities’ right to land is enshrined in the Indonesian constitution, there is no clear definition of land as a right to be claimed, nor a community as a subject of rights.  Later on, audience participation highlighted the highly ambiguous nature of the term ‘people’. In her response to the question of pastoralist claims to land rights, Joan Carling transformed the idea of ‘indigenous people’ into an umbrella phrase for all those who practice traditional institutions of productive land management.  Such an easily assumed flexibility reduces indigenous land rights to citizens’ access to land.

The second ripple arrived not much later in the session, in the form of disregard for the rights and welfare of neighbouring communities.  In his presentation, Peter Peacock gave the example of local Scottish communities winning the legal right to force the sale of ancestral lands occupied by those outside this group back to the community.  Now, while this may be seen as a victory for the community, one needs to ask why the act of dispossessing indigenous communities is viewed as a crime, but the dispossession of landowners is not. Honourable Awulae Amihere Kpanyili III said it best when he explained in yesterday’s panel on Developing and Implementing Land Policies and the Role of Local Authorities that asking someone to give up their inheritance for such altruistic goals is no easy feat, and may not necessarily constitute a just act.  Therefore, while arguments supporting land restitution and reform are recognised as well-founded and worthy of public defence, we must not forget that other communities will also be affected by the outcomes of such measures.

The day’s second plenary session closed on the affirmation that land rights held the higher meaning of social justice, equality and non-discrimination for people long relegated to the fringes of society.  However, it is also indisputable that there remain many ideological and practical questions to be answered before decisive action can be taken.  And, just as this action can only succeed as a concerted multilevel effort, the answers will proceed from the collective work of all affected actors.


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