Stay In Bakun But Change Your Lifestyle, Natives Told

The Malaysian Government seems to think it can steal the land of indigenous people, deprive them of their livelihoods, and then claim that they are helping them to thrive. The government may think they can lie to people in the villages about the “better life” they will have after resettlement, but all you have to do it visit Sungai Asap, the resettlement area from Bakun Dam, to know they are not telling the truth. Read more below about what Malaysian Politician, Wan Junaidi, has to say about the future of indigenous communities in the Bakun area.

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The indigenous communities can remain in the Bakun area even though it will be turned into a national park, but the natives must change their lifestyle, said Sarawak’s Santubong MP Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

“They can still live in the national park but they cannot do shifting cultivation anymore,” Wan Junaidi told Malaysiakini in the Parliament lobby yesterday.

Asked how they could sustain their livelihood, Wan Junaidi, who is also deputy home minister, said the natives must learn to settle down and engage in permanent crop cultivation.

“They can still make a living because they live off gathering and hunting, and there are animals. But they can’t chop off the trees.

“They can ask the government for a certain area of land for cultivation and they have to settle down,” said Wan Junaidi, who is also a supreme council member of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu Sarawak (PBB).

In the notice to gazette Bakun as a national park, which was published in Sarawak newspaper Borneo Post last Tuesday, Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud listed 18 islands within the Bakun dam area to be included in the proposal.

According to native customary rights (NCR) lawyer Abun Sui Anyit, the purported “islands” were actually highland peaks before the controversial Bakun dam project flooded the zone and forced the native people out.

Abun Sui said although the majority of the natives were forced to move to the Sungai Asap Resettlement Scheme, some people refused to move out of the Bakun area and have remained there.

‘Better off if they resettle’

Wan Junaidi said that the indigenous people, especially the Penan, would be better off being resettled.

“You know their life expectancy before the government resettled them? It was less than 50 years. None of them survive until 50.

“After the government gave them clinics and schools, they could survive like you and me, maybe until 70 or 80 years,” he said.

Wan Junaidi also hit out at international non-governmental organizations for supporting the Penan to resist their resettlement.

In actual fact, they want to kill the Penan because in due course the Penan community will be gone if you allow them to live as they are. Disease and starvation will kill them,” he said.

He added that the government could not simply cede land to the native community because it involved a large area.

“If you give the land to these people just because they have been roaming in the area, then are we going to send everybody else to the sea?” Wan Junaidi asked.

There have been several landmark court rulings recognizing the ancestral land rights of indigenous people, but the Sarawak government has been accused of refusing to implement policies that are consistent with these rulings.