By: Karen Arukesamy (Mar 15, 2011)
KUALA LUMPUR (March 15, 2011): Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is fully aware of the repercussions of his statement that the Orang Asli do not have more right than the Malays to claim Malaysia, said Jaringan Kampung Orang Asli Semenanjung Malaysia (JKOASM) coordinator Tijah Nyok Chopil.
Mahathir had in blog posting on March 10 opined that giving the Orang Asli greater rights to claim Malaysia as their own would be like handing back the US, Australia and New Zealand to the Native American, Maori and Aborigine natives respectively.
Tijah said: “Mahathir did not say this out of ignorance, he said it out of arrogance and power because he knows that the Orang Asli would not challenge him. But don’t take us for granted!”
“First of all, whatever we have advocated and claimed for over the years is the recognition of customary land, which is the heritage of our ancestors,” she told a press conference at the Bar Council today.
She said every region of native land claimed is ancestral property.
“We are just claiming what is rightfully ours,” Tijah said adding that the community has never touched on the rights and privileges of other races in the country.
“We have never claimed the whole of Malaysia or demanded that Peninsular Malaysia be returned to the indigenous community,” she said.
An emotional Tijah said Mahathir had not just insulted the indigenous people, but also violated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and manipulated the actual scenario.
“His statement can have negative impact on the community, where it will further expose the community to the greedy businessmen and loggers,” she said.
In support of JKOASM, the Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee said there was ample historical evidence that the indigenous people have continuously occupied Peninsular Malaysia for thousands of years with their own form of self-government, customs, traditions and practices.
“Mahathir’s claim also went against the position of the court, pointing out that the Court of Appeal had recognised the Orang Asli as the “First People” in the Sagong Tari case.
“Mahathir’s views are just plain and simply wrong,” he said at the same press conference.
Furthermore, Lim said the Federal Constitution and the Aboriginal Peoples Act 1954 have recognised the status of the indigenous people and their customary rights over their ancestral lands.
The Bar and JKOASM has demanded for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak to make a stand in this controversy.