Kamoro people take a stand against Freeport smelter plans

Since Indonesia decided to enforce its 2009 mineral law that obliged mining companies to process ore within Indonesia, attention has focussed on the biggest mining operation in the country: Freeport McMoran’s gold and copper mine in Timika, Papua. Freeport wanted to build a smelter in East Java, where better infrastructure means a lower-cost operation, but some in Papua have been determined that the smelter should be built within Papua. Provincial Governor Lukas Enembe even made plans to visit China to look for investors who might build the smelter, and national government is now supporting an industrial zone to be built in the area.

These plans have been advancing quickly at the corporate and government level without involving the Kamoro people who inhabit the lowland rivers and coasts where the smelter would be built. This is despite many years of opposition to Freeport’s operation (just this week, upset with some company decisions, workers from seven tribes have been blockading the access road to the mine), and just last December, the local leader had to force an oil palm company to close down after it was having severe negative effects on the Kamoro People.

Now, according to the article below which is translated from Tabloid Jubi, the Kamoro people have decided to hold a ritual known as sasi, a practice common to indigenous cultures all over Papua and Maluku which forbids someone from doing something – in this case building a smelter.

Tonight (Saturday 21/3) The Kamoro people will hold a Sasi ritual to oppose the Freeport smelter.

Timika, Jubi – The leadership council of the Kamoro indigenous consultative organisation (LEMASKO), together with the Kamoro people from ten villages along the Mimika coast, are planning to conduct a Sasi ritual. This means a prohibition on taking certain plants for a defined length of time, and is so the local people can really conserve their forest.

Simson Saul Materaki conveyed this news and explained that the Sasi process would involve several rituals.

“We will also go to the Mimika Regency Government Offices, starting from the smelter building site in Paomako,” Simson Saul Materaki said to tabloidjubi.com in Timika on Friday night (20/3), 23.45 Papua time.

Meanwhile acting chair of the LEMASKO leadership council Dominikus Mitoro made it clear that LEMASKO was fighting to protect the basic rights of indigenous people from Nake Village to Warifi village (Etna Bay).

“The Kamoro people in Timika will gather to use their traditional way of calling on their ancestors, and tomorrow morning, 21st March, will establish Sasi for the Timika area. It is to oppose Freeport and the smelter and any sort of investment in the area, in order to save the mangrove swamps and sago groves”, said Dominikus Mitoro.

It is said that the Sasi customary law refers problems or demands back to the ancestors, asking the earliest forefathers to help guard the land that is blocked off. This kind of customary blockade usually means that anyone who resists it will fall victim.

“So when they enact Sasi it means whoever violates it will drop dead. After this Sasi ritual, Freeport or any other investor will encounter endless problems. The main thing is, no business will run smoothly until it leaves Mimika”, he explained.

This was confirmed by a leading figure in the Kamoro indigenous community, Jhon Nakiaya. He said that all the Kamoro people will gather for the Sasi rituals calling upon their ancestors, from all ten of the villages along the Mimika coast.

“The event starts tonight, going on until the morning when we will continue to the local government offices , the whole community will be involved in the Sasi ritual, calling upon all our ancestors to protect nature” jhon Nakiaya told tabloidjubi.com.

Previously LEMASKO had conveyed its strong opposition to the local and provincial governments’ plan to build a plant for purifying concentrate, or smelter, in the Poumako area, East Mimika District.

All of LEMASKO’s core organisers attended the press briefing, including Robertus Waraopea (leadership council chair),  Georgorius Okoare (deputy chair I),  Dominikus Mitoro (deputy chair II), Marianus Maknaipeku (deputy chair III), John Nakiaya (leadership council treasurer)and  Simson Saul Materaki (leadership council secretary).

Robertus Waraopea said that the government had made plans to build a smelter in Poumako without first approaching the local community or indigenous organisations.

Although the land in the Poumako area has already been passed on to a new owner, the whole area is still claimed by the Kamoro people. Furthermore, near the proposed smelter site  there is a settlement of indigenous Kamoro people whose livelihoods are dependent  on being able to find food in nearby rivers.

“The government has made plans to build this smelter without asking permission first, specifically from the indigenous community which has customary land rights in that area. So we think that people in the government are not making an effort to approach local indigenous people”, said Robertus.

Source: Jubi: tabloidjubi.com/2015/03/21/malam-ini-sabtu-2132015-masyarakat-kamoro-pasang-sasi-tolak-smelter/


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