Nine Orang Asal champions including a former member of the Senoi Peraq, the elite Orang Asli armed force received an award today from Y.A.B. Dato’ Seri Mohamed Azmin Bin Ali, Chief Minister of Selangor at the International Day of The World’s Indigenous Peoples Celebration for their contributions towards advancing indigenous rights in Malaysia.
Winners of the award were nominated through the members of the Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS). Among recipients include the late Arom Asir who, after retiring from the Senoi Peraq, guided the Temiar Orang Asli of Kelantan in defending their traditional territory and reasserting their cultural heritage.
Members of JOAS selected a diverse range awardees from community elders to NGO workers to youths.
Among the awardees who worked tirelessly for over 20 years in assisting communities through their respective NGOs to help defend their traditional territories are Galus Ahtoi from the Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS Trust), Niloh Ahson from the Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA), Raymond Abin from Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia (BRIMAS) and Tijah Yok Chopil from the Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM).
From Sarawak, the late Wesley Ngau Yan from Baram who worked in Kuala Lumpur, lead the stop Baram dam campaign in the city through protests and other lobbying efforts also received the award. He was also a social media influencer as the administrator of Facebook groups supporting the campaign to stop the construction of the Baram dam These groups, with well over 100,000 followers, saw the fruits of their labor when the Baram dam was scrapped late last year. Wesley tragically passed away earlier this year in an accident.
In Peninsular Malaysia, Jenita Engi, a Temuan woman who co-founded an Orang Asli learning childhood learning center, PDK Cenwaey Penaney, which merges traditional learning methods with the mainstream education syllabus, received the award.
While in Sabah, the late Darinsuk Apan who led his community in the longest Native Customary Rights (NCR) case in history running for 15 years. He unfortunately passed away 2 years before the case reached an amicable settlement in favor of the community.
Jannie Lasimbang, who advocated for indigenous rights at the international level including as chairperson of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Secretary General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, and at the national level as a member of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) as well as being a local activist for more than 20 years is also among the recipients of the award from Sabah.
“Too often, governments view Orang Asal activists as trouble makers. Because they have the guts to say no to governments when their development plans do not serve the interest of the people,” explained Yusri Ahon, President of JOAS.
“Selangor is one of the most developed and populated state with one of the highest commercially valued land, yet the government is willing to not only work with the Orang Asli to gazette Orang Asli land, but also to recognize our unsung Orang Asal heroes and their efforts to defend indigenous rights through this award,” he added.
“We hope that this award demonstrates to other states, whose land are worth a lot less commercially, that it is not impossible to develop while respecting and acknowledging Orang Asal land rights,” he stressed.