PENAMPANG: The government will have failed the people if the Sabah Law and Native Affairs Ministry cannot solve the outstanding issue of ascertaining a clear definition of indigenous people (Orang Asal) in the state, says Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau.
He said the previous administration tried to push the amendment to the State’s Interpretation (Definition of Native) Ordinance to clearly define who indigenous people are.
But there are still issues to be ironed out.
This is among the two matters he hoped would be addressed at the forum on issues and challenges faced by indigenous people of Sabah, which was held in conjunction with the state-level International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2019 yesterday.
“I do not have the exact details, but there is a need to amend it. This has gone through a lengthy process of discussion, where various committees (were formed) previously and the Attorney General’s Chambers has come up with the draft of the Bill for amendment.
“I think there were certain issues and that is why it needs to be discussed, such as the inclusion of particular ethnic groups and who is in and out. That is why the definition has to be very clear.
“But we should use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Undrip) as the basis of any definition.“If we can agree and accept the definition, then we can move to the next level, including legislation, and present the Bill at the state assembly for amendment, ” he said when asked why the amendment did not take place during the previous administration.
He said NGOs and academicians were welcome to discuss and propose a definition.
“But let’s not prolong the issue. We must come to an agreement. Allow us to table this in the state assembly so that we know what it means to be indigenous people, ” he added.
The Undrip is a declaration supported by 144 nations in 2007 to encourage countries to work alongside indigenous people.
Momogun National Congress deputy president Dr Paul Porodong said the general definition used by Undrip on indigenous people might not be appropriate in Sabah’s context.
“We might need to accommodate based on local relevance. Sarawak has already defined its indigenous people and we have yet to, ” the former Universiti Malaysia Sabah lecturer said during the forum.
Sharing his personal perspective, he said the definition of indigenous people must include four elements.
“Firstly, the community must have a connection with their natural landscape such as islands and mountains.
“They must originate from Sabah and have deep knowledge of the flora and fauna, especially those endemic to Sabah.
“Lastly, they must have a connection with other communities – the more ties, the higher the likelihood that they are indigenous people, ” he said.