I write in response to your article titled “Officials rubbish West Papua Protest.”
Colonizers will always lie to you about what colonized peoples want. And some colonized peoples will parrot this – but this does nothing to change the lies from being lies.
Comments from Tantowi Yahwa, the Indonesian Ambassador to New Zealand, Tonga and Samoa, dismissing the recent Samoan protesters highlighting the plight of West Papuans outside of the Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting in Apia are misleading and deeply arrogant.
Saying “[t]he Pacific should stick to the main agenda of the conference which is the Blue Pacific” just shows the ambassador doesn’t even know the history and fundamental concerns of all Pacific island countries.
Since when, since the coming of colonizers into the Pacific – whether European, Asian or other – has decolonization and independence not been on all Pacific peoples agendas? And since when did it stop being the issue that determines all the others we might be concerned about?
If the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting is “not the place” to discuss not just human rights abuses, but also independence and decolonization for West Papua, then it is just a mouthpiece for Western imperialism and Indonesian colonization.
The comments of Albert Joku, on the other hand, a West Papuan wantok who once advocated for independence, should be understood in context as coming from someone who now works for the Indonesian government.
As Indonesian government spokesperson, of course he’s going to try to dismiss any Pacific protests for West Papuan independence.
Of course he’s going to argue that West Papuans should just give up on their dreams for independence, while Indonesia reduces them to a minority on their own lands, and continues to kill them off is the practice of all colonizers.
And of course he has to somehow believe that West Papuans can integrate into the burning house that has always, from the start, been what Indonesia has been and is for the indigenous Papuans of the region.
Reality and belief are two different things though.
My wantok, Mr Joku, can shut his eyes and try to believe that West Papuans have now “seen the worst” that Indonesia has inflicted on them, but when did Indonesia stop the routine extra-judicial killings, torture and imprisonment of independence activists?
When did it stop the systematic destruction of rainforests and lands through industrial logging and extractive mining? When did it stop the theft of land dispossession, depriving West Papuans of lands and handing them over to Indonesian occupiers and corporations? When did it stop the trans-migration programs that’s already reduced West Papuans to a minority in their own lands, and will succeed in making them less than 30% of the total population by 2020?
The truth is: it hasn’t.
These forms of systemic violence – the blunt term is genocide – are what Indonesia is still carrying out today. And actually ramping up as the global movement for West Papua independence is picking up as well.
And this Indonesian occupation and genocide isn’t going to stop either because its roots are systemic: driven by capitalist expansion and imperialist greed sanctioned by the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. It ensures ongoing Western and Indonesia corporate access to West Papua’s vast mineral resources. It provides new land for displacing Indonesia’s over-population issues. And it helps ensure U.S. geo-political dominance over the region.
Mr Joku can also try to dismiss the significance and principled nature of the West Papuan protests by our aiga in Samoa, but that dismissiveness says more about him than about the protesters.
He talks about “emancipation” as if you can separate it from independence. As if you can find emancipation by subordinating yourself to a colonizer.
When he says “we will not be dictated by anyone” and “we Papuans, in Papua, will decide what we want to do”, he acts as if he speaks for all Papuans, and as if most Papuans are so browbeaten and defeated that all they want to do is accept subordination to a colonizer.
That’s so patronizing. And false.
Some Papuans might be comfortable pushing for colonial integration rather than independence. But the vast majority of West Papuans from the past to the present have always yearned for independence.
And all Pacific people can do no less than to honour this history of past and present struggles by recognizing that aspiration for independence, and doing what we can to fight for that independence.
That’s what the protesters did in Samoa when they carried out peaceful protests outside of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting, calling attention to the issue of West Papuan independence.
They were standing in the tradition of the MAU movement in standing up for rights indigenous Pacific peoples, and asserting that our independence has been and always will be an inalienable indigenous right.
And when wantok Joku says “the Papua issue has been at the forefront since the late 50s and 60s” and “we’ve never seen Samoans and Fijians”, he acts as if Indonesian government money, media repression, and Western pressure have not had anything to do with keeping the Papua issue from the minds of our Pacific peoples, or to do with the buying off and silencing of Pacific politicians over the years.
He acts as if there is no shared history of Pacific decolonization struggles.
And he acts as if freedom has a timetable.
What wantok Joku doesn’t want to acknowledge is that the Samoan protests are only the latest example of a growing wave of politicization throughout the Pacific where Pacific peoples are starting to find each other again, reconnecting with our shared genealogical and political roots, to fight together for our collective and individual rights as indigenous people who want nothing less than to be independent, sovereign, and free. These struggles are being waged on a number of fronts from nuclear testing to free trade deals to climate change, and we’re reconnecting them back to that basic struggle for independence that have informed decolonization of the past up to today.
So to all those protesters in Samoa that took the time to speak up for our West Papuan wantoks during the Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting that was recently held in Apia, the only thing I can say is: fa’afetai, fa’fetatai, fa’afetai tele lava.
The sons and daughters of Oceania are rising. And we want nothing less than to be independent, sovereign and free.
Dr. Pala Molisa
Victoria University Lecturer
Member of the “Run it Straight Collective”/ Activist and advocate for the Free West Papua Movement (NZ)