Mining, Development, and Indigenous Peoples in Southeast Asia

By Howard, Michael C. | Journal of Business Administration, Annual 1994 | Go to article overview

Mining, Development, and Indigenous Peoples in Southeast Asia


Howard, Michael C., Journal of Business Administration


While it is apparent that mining has contributed greatly to world development in general, the role of mining in the development process for individual countries, regions, and peoples is problematic.(1) Two issues have been at the forefront of debate over mining development in recent years: (1) the impact of mining on the environment, and (2) the impact of mining on indigenous peoples. For many engaged in the debate, these two issues have been closely intertwined. They are interrelated to the extent that both can be viewed as potential costs

facing mining development. They have also been associated by the widespread belief that native peoples seek to promote an environmentally sound life-style while those in the mining industry are commonly characterized as profligate destroyers of the environment.

The acrimony of debate over these issues reflects the absence of easily determined "value-free" solutions and the related lack of agreement over mining's impact on the environment and indigenous peoples and how to assess the costs of this impact. As Judith Rees has noted, the choices that must be made "are subjective, political, social and moral."(2) It also reflects the extent to which mining is an intensive industry that concentrates capital and industry in rural settings to an unparalleled degree.

The extent and value of exploration and exploitation in areas occupied by indigenous peoples is a relatively small part of the total minerals market. It is, nonetheless, significant in part because such activities frequently take place at the frontier (in both physical and technical terms) of the industry. Such development in remote areas not only has a major impact on the lives of indigenous peoples, but it also threatens the ecology of relatively pristine environments.

This article will focus on mining in the Philippines and Indonesia, and address questions about mining development as it relates to the situation of indigenous peoples in these countries. The discussion begins with a brief survey of the indigenous peoples in the mining areas and their history. The next section reviews mining in the Philippines and Indonesia. The third section focuses on the relevance of mining for indigenous peoples and the changes that mining has brought about for these people. The final part examines developmental questions relating to mining and indigenous peoples. This part will look at the problem of land rights and negotiating compensation for indigenous peoples and at the broader issues concerning ethno-development and sustainable development.

The Indigenes

Central to an examination of the relationship between mining development and indigenous people in Southeast Asia is an appreciation of the heterogeneity of the peoples concerned and the changes they have undergone in recent years.

The Philippines

In the Philippines, about eight to nine million people are classified as cultural minorities out of a total population of sixty-six million in 1990. Divided into about sixty groups, the main concentrations of indigenous peoples are in remote areas of northern Luzon, Mindoro, Mindanao, and Palawan. While some of the indigenous groups in the Cordillera traditionally lived in sedentary communities and practiced intensive terraced cultivation, many others lived in less stable communities and practiced shifting cultivation. Small groups of foragers, or Negritos, have traditionally been found in these areas as well.

American civil government in the Cordillera was established at Benguet in 1901 and on Mindanao in 1903. The Americans divided the Cordillera into subprovinces roughly along cultural lines. Each subprovince was placed under a Lieutenant Governor, who was given considerable autonomy, and indigenous institutions were modified to reinforce the colonial administration. Overall responsibility for indigenous affairs was given to the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes. During the interwar years, the tribal areas remained political and economic backwaters, with economic development of the colony focused largely elsewhere. …

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