Land of Indigenous - Customary Land in Fiji Article

4 Jul 2014

Social Empowerment Education Programme

“My land is the heart that pumps the blood through the veins of our communal lives…My land is a part of my clan, family, and myself. She is the mother of our sustenance and she is extremely sacred and special to us. She has always been silent but her eyes are wide awake”, Evereti Matakada (Fiji Landowner).

As an organization that works closely with rural Indigenous Itaukei in providing for them a space to discuss issues that are very sensitive to them, Social Empowerment & Education Program [SEEP], believes that issues surrounding land will always be sensitive and sacred because i-taukei refer to their land as an embodiment of their identity as a people.

Under the I-taukei Land Trust Act, the I-taukei have vested their trust in the ITLTB (formerly NLTB) to ensure their rights are protected. It was to provide a sense of security to i-taukei landowners from the onslaught of investors and ‘developers’. While it has provided some form of protection and a sense of security the system of ITLTB is not perfect and over the decades, the ITLTB has been criticized for being corrupt, for its lack of transparency to its core group of stakeholders and in some cases, for wheeling and dealing indigenous land for the benefit of a few. SEEP agrees with the criticisms leveled against it by disgruntled landowners who many times felt cheated and disrespected by officials from its offices. In addition, the danger of having documented and registered land ownership is now emerging as a full-blown political issue in Fiji.

SEEP is concerned with aggressive Land Use Decree (2010) that attempts to utilize ‘idle’ land through the Land Bank. For SEEP, it is very clear that this decree gives the Prime Minister complete discretion to issue leases of up to 99 years without consultation with landowners. Additionally, this LUD self-protects in the sense that if a LOU is unhappy and disagrees to the use of their land for a development purpose, they will not be able to take the matter through the courts. For us, it has the potential to alienate i-taukei landowners from their land and heritage and the ITLTB that has documented land boundaries and ownership becomes a storehouse of information leaving landowners more then a little vulnerable.

SEEP views customary ownership as positive and builds on the communal spirit of indigenous communities. Communal Ownership of land may not be perfect, but in solidarity we are protecting ourselves, our generations by learning to work together communally.

For further information contact Leo Nainoka or Chantelle Khan (3100170)

    Related countries:

  • Fiji

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