Know My Name:Wilfrida Lalian

Urgent Action Fund. For more on Wilfrida’s work, see Know My Name: Wilfrida Lalian


Location: North Central Timor District, East Nusa Tenggara

WHO: Wilfrida is an indigenous activist from Oekopa village, Biboki Tanpah, in North Central Timor District, East Nusa Tenggara. She belongs to the Usatnesi Sonaf K’bat tribe in Oekopa. As one the oldest tribes in the region, they are respected and trusted as leaders in the community. Wilfrida is a part-time teacher in a local junior high school and a weaver. She is the mother of seven children, two of whom have passed away, and one of whom is deaf. Her husband, Kanisius Ceunfin, is a farmer.

WHAT: Oekopa is a village of approximately 1,500 residents. The majority of Oekopa people make their living as farmers. In 2010, a manganese ore extraction company came to Oekopa to explore the area for mining. A preliminary meeting was held with the community, but neither the company nor the government followed up with the village, and in 2012, the company returned with a permit to begin operations. Wilfrida began to organize her community. “At night, I went door-to-door, combing through the village, and talked to people one by one to strengthen our position and not be swayed by sweet talk from the mining company. I don’t really care what people say.” The Usatnesi Sonaf K’bat tribe rejected the company’s proposal.

HER STORY: “As women, here we may not have rights but as a family member I do have a voice… So I asked my male relatives to reject the mining plan. What will we do if we do not have access to our land anymore? Where will the children go? What will they eat? Where will we farm? We are the landowners. We have lived in the area for hundreds of years as peasants and farmers.”

Because of her stance, the police went to Oekopa intending to arrest Wilfrida. She was brought in for interrogation, but instead she turned the table and questioned the officers about the legitimacy of the questioning. She told them: “This land is our property, and anyone who wants to deal with this land must ask us first… If we talk about our rights, what is wrong with that?” The police had no answer for her; and let her go. Wilfrida next organized the community members who had rejected the mining plan to visit the local administration in Kefa, the capital of their district, to voice their concerns. “We also had meetings with environmental organizations such as WALHI, LAKMAS and JPIC, as they expressed their willingness to help us to investigate the mining permit and contact the media.”

Wilfrida and her fellow community members then performed a customary (adat) ritual of nahake paham ma pao Nifu in Busan, which, in Wilfrida’s words, means that “if this land is not truly ours then it will be yours (the mining company’s), but if it truly belongs to us, then no matter what you (the mining company) do, nothing will happen.” Decisions made in such customary ceremonies are considered legally binding by the community. A week after the ceremony, the company left. “The company entered our land on May 2012, and on September 2012 they left without saying goodbye.”

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