Indigenous peoples’ ‘humane, sustainable’ ways lead to peace – Magsaysay Awardee Abdon Nababan

Abdon Nababan

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Indigenous peoples’ ‘humane, sustainable’ ways lead to peace – Magsaysay Awardee Abdon Nababan
Indonesia's Abdon Nababan asks: 'Where do we come from? What values, what spirit can we offer our society and our earth?'

The 6 recipients of the prestigious 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards were officially recognized during their presentation ceremonies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Thursday, August 31.

Among the awardees is Indonesia’s Abdon Nababan, who is recognized for his advocacy to give a voice to his country’s indigenous peoples.

Here is the full text of his speech, as provided by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.

(Read also: Abdon Nababan: Defender of Indonesia’s indigenous peoples)


Vice President of the Philippines Maria Leonor Robredo, trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, members of the Magsaysay family, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen. 

I receive this award with infinite gratitude to the creator of the universe, God almighty, and the ancestors who protect, accompany, and guard me always. I would also like, from the bottom of my heart, to thank all my friends in AMAN. This award is for us. 

I dedicate this award to my parents, my wife Devi, and my daughters Meilonia, Mena, and Mayang, who are at home but with me here, too. 

Me and my family, we’ve been through a lot. There were even times when I was scared. But, everytime, we overcame. And we grew. 

I became an activist in the late ’80s, opposing the all-too-powerful New Order Regime. In the ’90s I realized that I was also a victim. I am one of millions of indigenous peoples in Indonesia. At the time, I – an activist, a victim, an indigenous person – fought an industrial forest company in our ancestral lands. That company, however, was just a front for the real oppressor: authoritarianism and developmentalism. For them, we, the indigenous peoples, were not wanted. We are to be oppressed, to be eradicated, criminalized, impoverished, victimized. Devi, you knew all this, through the years of our frugal life together. You stood by me every time, with trust, hope, and love. 

From the very beginning, I have been on assignments given by my people and constituents: to initiate and lead organizations and alliances for the oppressed and for the environment. Because those assignments come with hope and trust, too. My latest assignment is from the indigenous peoples in North Sumatra – that is, to run for governor. This is a province so corrupt and violent. 

It took me and my family a long time to finally overcome the fear for our physical, financial, political, and social well-being with this assignment. Again, because of the trust and hope placed upon me, I said, “Yes, I am running for governor of North Sumatra.”

Ladies and gentlemen, tonight is also a night to ask ourselves: where do we come from? What values, what spirit can we offer our society and our earth? 

When differing opinions or interests manifest into violent conflicts, when the misuse of religion causes more killings, when developing the economy means destroying the environment, standing here before you, I offer the values and spirit of indigenous peoples to tackle present-day problems of our society and the environment – inequality, crimes, climate change – in a way that is not violent, but humane and sustainable.

And let our countries, Indonesia and the Philippines, lead the world towards peace, where the well-being of people, plants, animals, water, soils, and air prevail.

Thank you. Mayliate. Terimakasih. –

Read the speeches of other 2017 Ramon Magsaysay Awards recipients:


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