Sunday, March 30, 2008

Northeast Malaysia Forum 2008 - Colin Nicholas

The next speaker for Northeast Malaysia Forum at Harvard University is Colin Nicholas, Coordinator, Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC).

55-60% live in forest area or fringe area.

Orang asal like orang asli and natives in Sabah and Sarawak, are different from other people in Malaysia. It must be different than other Malaysians.

Orang asli are native people in Peninsular Malaysia.

Orang asal are bumiputera, minus Malay.

Orang asal are original inheritant of Malaysia. Orang asli like orang asal, has a special relationship to the tradition to the land. Indigenous people are linked to a particular space, not land specifically. It is about a specific area. It is because at that ecological area, they get their culture, spirituality, that they get their identity. They call themselves people who are from a specific area, eg: river valley.

The land is also the place where children learn. Things that are defining them as indigenous people. So, it is very important that we appreciate them as very site-specific. They are very localized. It is inevitable that the loss of land would cause a social breakdown of society.

What makes a person orang asal, they live in the area for a long time. The older people live there for a long time and they are being well respected. When everyone settles at an area, the older will have more knowledge of the area. If they are moved, everyone would have similar knowledge, and the older people are not getting more knowledge, and hence less respect.

What is happening to the land today. Housing and commercials, eg: Bukit Lanjan (Now called Damansara Perdana) used to be an orang asli area. The Runaway 1 in KLIA used to be 2 settlements of orang asli. UKM used to be orang asli. Orang asal are also losing the land to agricultural areas and also to logging. Conversation of forest for logging and agricultural impacting their land.

Why is it that it is so difficult to bring orang asli people out of poverty line. Why is it that it is so hard to move them out. They are very far behind especially on health. Why is this happening and what does orang asli wants. They want recognition, and want this land secure.

Orang asal are again reasserting their rights to have rights to self-determination. What does government offers? Non-recognition of orang asli's land, and sometimes their land is taken.

There is a department of non-orang asli, which currently is not headed by orang asli. Sometimes mind set of orang asli being influenced.

Tunku Abdul Rahman said that the Malays are the indigenous people, and before that, there wasn't civilization.

Tun Dr. Mahathir said that Malays are the definitive indigenous people here.

Criteria for political dominance are civilized society and establish recognition. The Malays are hence being tagged as indigenous people.

Hence, orang asal are being tagged by people as backward, dirty etc.

What orang asli value the most is autonomy. What that is often translated is anti-development. They do not reject development. In fact, they are asking for development on their own terms, own land and their own pace.

It is not enough for us to be just mere observer, but we need to create more knowledge to change for a better.

Q: Tell about anecdotes with orang asli
A: In the main range, Colin was told to be careful. It was told by another orang asli. Host took Colin in, and gave food. Colin thought that he kept Colin's sleeping bag, and Colin felt very cold there. He gave Colin their best blanket. And after that, Colin found that he accidentally left it in the car.

It is because of misconception that we sometimes pre-judge people.

Resettlement of orang asli does not bring better thing for orang asli. Sometimes, nutrition actually got worse.

There are orang asals who are attending conference/forum in Geneva. When Declarations of Rights, Malaysia voted for it. And there is inter-regional efforts on this.

Q: Why does the government feel so compelled to marginalize the Orang asli
A: Orang asli is only 0.5% in Malaysian population. Native people in Sabah/Sarawak are running their own state. Why does the government marginalize the orang asli? The policy is to integrate the orang asli into main stream.

In the past, for instance, Parameswara got the help from Orang Laut previously to fight the pirates. Perak and Johor royalty in the past got help from Orang Asli (eg Orang Laut). Previously, we used them. Today, we move them into interior. Previously, those ulu areas in jungle which were unused land previously, today is useful land.

A: Orang asli requires territory and respect of culture. So, they need to ensure that their land is taken care of. It is their right to determine their own culture. It is orang asli's rights.

A: If the orang asli is given rights/protection, just like bumiputera, then we can one day stand on equal foot. Colin stressed that it is not the right way to go. We need to move on as Malaysians, but until we do that, orang asli should be treated like other bumiputera.

Q: What are the recommendations for the way forward with regards to sacred land?
A: Reason for resettlement, because the land wants to be given to others. Orang asli is not against development, but they should be treated equitably. We should not just give them something that they don't want. We should perhaps have them as joint owners.

Q: How can we Malaysian citizen stand constructively with orang aslis
A: At least, we should find out about their voice. Understand about their issues, empathize about their issues.

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