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Nukila Evanty: The Duty of the Government, Protect the Sea Tribes in the Riau Islands


Jakarta, IO – Nukila Evanty, Chairperson of the Indigenous Peoples Initiative (IMA), expressed her concern about the sea tribe’s environment (both land and water), economy, and social and cultural issues, in Batam City, Riau Islands Province. The IMA is urging the government to pay more attention to the plight of Sea Tribe women and children, who are the most disadvantaged. Nukila conducted research and advocacy in Batam City from May 16–20, 2024, followed by visits to Coastal Bintan, Tanjung Pinang, Riau Islands. The research focused on three sea tribe villages: Air Mas Sea Tribe, Tanjung Sauh Island, Nongsa Batam City; Dare Island Sea Tribe, Belakang Padang Batam City; and Air Gelubi Sea Tribe, Bintan Pesisir, Bintan Regency, Riau Islands.

“I had the opportunity to do research and advocate for the women of the sea tribe (the Sea Peoples) in the Riau Islands. The research aims to inform the decision-maker—the government—to comprehend the challenges faced by the women and children here and to conduct an intervention program to help the sea people,” said Nukila in an interview with the Independent Observer on May 21, 2024.

According to Nukila, the sea people live on outer islands and waters, which can significantly impact security issues and international crimes. They could easily be trapped into human trafficking, since they live very close to the borders of Singapore and Malaysia.

“Their condition is heartbreaking and distressing, especially for the women and children of the Sea Tribe. I encountered many stories when I met them, for example, the story of Ibu Anyut, the eldest woman of the Air Gelubi Sea Tribe. She recounted that in the past, they used to be able to do ‘berkelam’ and ‘belakin’ (going fishing with a canoe for 2-3 days). There was also a tradition of making ‘kajang’ from nipa leaves to cover their sampans, and the practice of trading a pig for rice for their daily meals. But all these traditions have vanished since they decided to move to the coast. What’s more, the houses they have been living in for decades do not have land certificates,” Nukila said.

Another story was told by Ibu Farah, the wife of one of the tribe’s chiefs in the Dare Island Sea Tribe. She and her family have settled in a house provided by the government; unfortunately, the house also does not have a certificate. The growing extractive industry around the island has left the sea water murky, fish poisoned, and coral reefs dying. “Should any of the residents protest, they usually end up being imprisoned,” said Nukila, recounting what Ibu Farah told her.

Ibu Farah also raised another issue about the rising number of dropouts who end up marrying at a young age, under 18 years old. “I found many women in the Air Mas Sea Tribe who cannot read and write on Air Mas Island, as schools are far from settlements, making it difficult for them to access education,” Nukila explained.

Nukila proposed several recommendations for the local and central governments from the Indigenous Peoples Initiative (IMA).

First, the government should recognize the Sea Tribe’s identity to preserve their numbers and existence, since the Sea Tribes have lost a lot of their traditions, language and culture.

Second, there is a need for a comprehensive and multisectoral approach to solve the issues faced by children and women in the Sea Tribe, particularly relating to accessible and nearby healthcare.

Third, address the phenomenon of early marriage.

Fourth, address the illiterate Sea Tribe women by providing schools close to Sea Tribe settlements.

Read: Indonesia, Suriname To Cooperate On Coastal Protrection, Mangrove Rehabilitation

Fifth, ensuring that businesses in the Riau Islands comply with the UNGPs (United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights)—business guidelines in respect to human rights—and providing social, economic, and environmental impact analysis for communities affected by a development project.

Sixth, prioritizing gender-sensitive policies and holding gender-based data to understand the roles of women in the Sea Tribe.

“In the end, continuous ignorance will lead to our losses as a nation, and for the government, it will fail to fulfill its commitments in the international arena in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and gender equality,” Nukila concluded. (des)


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