Yance Arizona is a PhD candidate at the Van Vollenhoven Institute, Leiden University, the Netherlands. His PhD research investigates the politics of indigeneity and legal recognition of customary land rights as a solution against land dispossession in Indonesia. He worked for ten years as an NGO activist promoting indigenous communities’ rights in Indonesia (2007-2017). He received an Indigenous Leaders Conservation Fellowship sponsored by Conservation International (2014) and a Sasakawa Young Leadership Fellowship (SYLFF) from Tokyo Foundation (2019) for conducting visiting research on customary land rights in Australia and Japan. Yance has published some books and journal articles.
Beyond Communal and Individual Land: Indigenous land recognition and reproduction of class inequality in rural Indonesia
The main assumption among indigenous land rights supporters is that legal recognition of customary land by state agencies will protect indigenous communities against land dispossession. Furthermore, state recognition would enable the community in governing communal land tenure arrangement to maintain social harmony and sustainable environmental management practices. This article challenges these assumptions. When all attention in research and indigenous land rights campaigns focusses on land dispossession because of mining and conservation projects, little attention is given to internal land dispossession by local community elites. In two cases where local communities engage with indigenous peoples’ mobilisation in Indonesia, I found that local communities’ struggle to obtain formal recognition of their communal forests became intertwined with a process of informally certifying patches of that forest as private land. Consequently, the dichotomy between communal and private as well as between formal and informal becomes blurred. In such a situation, local leaders use indigeneity arguments for securing individual interests. Not the indigenous leaders but rather the elected village heads appear most influential in creating local land tenure arrangements, acting as an intermediary between rural community members, traditional leaders, district government and indigeneity NGOs. This research draws attention to the role of village elites and shows how indigenous mobilisation can support class formation at the local level. Instead of challenging land dispossession, indigeneity can be a means for the reproduction of class inequality.
Affiliation: Leiden University