Orpha Novita Yoshua is a young Indigenous Namblong woman from the Grime Nawa Valley in West Papua, Indonesia attending the Biodiversity COP15 in Montreal, Canada. The following is a letter she sent to Madame Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema.

At a press conference in Montreal’s Hotel10 during COP15, global Indigenous leaders from Brazil, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Indonesia gathered to call for nature protection that centres Indigenous rights and shifts power from industry to Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
© Toma Iczkovits / Greenpeace

I am Orpha Novita Yoshua, a young Indigenous Namblong woman from the Grime Nawa Valley in West Papua, Indonesia. When you receive this letter, you receive it with a bag. This bag is a Noken; the women in my community made it with love from Genemo trees. This bag is a symbol of a woman’s big heart, because you can put everything in there, and the bag will grow bigger and bigger.

Genemo trees, found in the Grime Nawa Valley, are essential to our community because we make food from the leaves, and use the bark to make twine, including for use in our customary Noken bags.

My family and the entire Namblong Indigenous People live in the Grime Nawa Valley. There you will find the Ktu Mai Forest,  home to many animals such as Cassowary, Maleo, and Lao Lao – a Papuan forest kangaroo. My island is a champion in terms of biodiversity – New Guinea has the most diverse flora in the world. Many of these provide us with food – we eat from the sago palm and many unique fruit and fig trees. These are also a source of food for animals.

Our customary land also has some of the best bird-watching in the archipelago at a place named Rhepang Muaif. It is where people come from around the world to take pictures of our unique and beautiful birds of paradise – they are a symbol of the West Papuan people. This animal lives among our dense forest and flies upon feathers of gold in search of food, but when it wants to sleep, it will return to earth to rest.

There are also various types of trees, one of which is the sago palm tree, the staple food for the people in the Grime Nawa Valley. Sago is a tree that grows even without knowing the season and continues to grow to this day. Between our forests and land, there are many springs which are the primary source of needs for the life of animals, trees, plants, and us everyday people.

Indigenous Peoples regard the forest as an inheritance given to our ancestors and passed down to us from generation to generation. The community divides the forest into a forest where we do gardening, a juvenile or former garden forest, and a virgin forest, a forest considered sacred, a forbidden forest that no one is allowed to disturb.

Unfortunately, the beauty and serenity of the Grime Nawa Valley has been rocked by illegal land clearing by palm oil company PT Permata Nusa Mandiri. The company, which is linked to one of Indonesia’s richest oligarchs, was granted a permit to convert over 16,000 hectares of Indigenous forest land, without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of all Indigenous Peoples. The government also handed the company an environmental permit without our agreement. Indigenous Peoples of the Grime Nawa Valley have staged peaceful demonstrations to demand the government revoke all the company’s permits, because we never relinquished our land rights to the company. But to our outrage, the company has gone ahead and begun clearing our forest in the Grime Nawa Valley anyway – more than 100 hectares of forest has been destroyed already this year.

It is an unfair reality faced by the people in the Grime-Nawa Valley region. The central government doesn’t seem to care, even though it should protect all of its people from the greed of companies that drain Indonesia’s natural resources and only leave lasting suffering for Indigenous Peoples and damage to biodiversity.

My message is that the forests of the archipelago – Papua, Kalimantan and Sumatra – are crucial for conserving biodiversity and protecting the climate. Because when our forests are damaged, there will be a massive climate crisis, species like the birds of paradise will become extinct, and not just our Namblong Indigenous culture will be destroyed, but that of all peoples everywhere. 

From one woman to another, I know that you have many powerful friends who can help us to save our forest and our home in Grime Nawa Valley. 

Best regards,