Teminabuan, Indonesia – Four thousand Indigenous Papuans have finally received legal recognition of customary rights over tropical rainforest spanning an area almost the size of Hong Kong in South Sorong Regency. The newly recognised Indigenous lands of the Knasaimos Peoples, extending to 97,411 hectares, lie in Indonesia’s Southwest Papua province.

According to Knasaimos tradition, local Indigenous clans hold their territory under collective traditional title with each family or individual having rights over their own sago groves, food gardens, and housing, while outsiders may only rent land within the customary area. Until now, this pre-existing Indigenous law regarding land ownership was effectively ignored by the modern Indonesian legal system, under which central and local governments offered loggers and plantation companies concessions to clear forest and convert land to industrial uses.

Fredrik Sagisolo, Chair of the Knasaimos Indigenous Peoples Fellowship Council, said: “Finally with today’s decree, the nation opens its eyes to an indisputable fact, true since time immemorial: that this land has always belonged to our ancestors, and so to us, and is our grandchildren’s birthright. That we alone have the legal right to determine our future and manage our land, its deep green forests, its turquoise rivers, and the many-coloured diversity of plants and animals that call it home.”

As with many Indigenous communities across Tanah Papua (the western half of New Guinea, also known internationally as West Papua), the Knasaimos Peoples have been fighting for decades to protect their customary lands from exploitation by external interests. Loggers have intruded to fell valuable Merbau trees, and palm oil companies have repeatedly attempted to establish themselves within Knasaimos territory.[1] For the Knasaimos Peoples that fight ended today with a decree that finally provided legal recognition of their rights.

Amos Sumbung, a Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia, said: “Slowly, we are seeing legal recognition that Papua is not an empty land. The Knasaimos Indigenous Peoples are today enjoying the fruit of their long struggle, but we must remember that there are many other Indigenous communities in Tanah Papua, and across the rest of the archipelago, who have permanently lost their land, forests, and biodiversity after concessions were handed to company interests.”

Duketini Marlina Youwe, of local organisation Bentara Papua, said: “Indigenous people, especially women, depend on nature. Traditional forests are a part of the Knasaimos identity and provide a source of food, building materials and medicine. Mothers collect sago, fruits and vegetables, and medicinal plants to feed and heal their families but also to provide income to ensure their children can go to school. With today’s legal recognition, we hope that the Indigenous community can continue to employ their local wisdom to manage their customary territory, and enjoy the benefits without being forced to give up their land.”

In formally presenting the decree acknowledging the Knasaimos territory, South Sorong Regional Secretary Dance Nauw said: “Today’s legal recognition of Knasaimos customary territory is a historical milestone for South Sorong. In issuing this decree the regency government provides real proof that it cares about its constituents. What’s more we demonstrate to both our local community and to the central government that commitments to protecting the environment and ensuring dignity and prosperity for Indigenous communities go hand in hand.”

Also speaking at the presentation ceremony in Teminabuan, Kiki Taufik, Global Head of Greenpeace Indonesia’s Forest Campaign added: “Legal recognition for Indigenous communities is the responsibility not only of local governments such as in South Sorong, but also of the central government in Jakarta. We need Indonesia’s House of Representatives to pass the Draft Law on Indigenous Peoples, and we won’t rest until we see full legal protection and recognition for Indigenous Forests and real solutions to end deforestation in Papua.”



[1] Throughout their fight, the Knasaimos Peoples faced the problem that Indonesia’s forest management regime considers all forest areas, including Indigenous lands, to be under public ownership and government control, enabling officials to issue permits to plantation companies. Although this was technically overturned by Indonesia’s Constitutional Court in 2012, legal recognition of Indigenous title still requires a difficult and lengthy process to be undertaken.

[2] Photos and videos of the decree presentation ceremony and footage of villages, forests and rivers within Knasaimos territory are available in the Greenpeace Media Library

[3] Knasaimos Customary Area location and territory maps.


Igor O’Neill, Greenpeace Indonesia Forests Campaign: [email protected] +61 414-288-424

Infak Mayor, Bentara Papua, +62-822-4906-3836

Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31(0)207-18 2470 (available 24 hours). Follow @greenpeacepress for our latest international press releases.