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Sungai Utik :The fight for recognition

View on The Global Environmental Justice site

This is one of seven short films about sustainable living in the forests of Indonesia, Costa Rica and Brazil. Taken together, they tell a story of oppression, resistance, accomplishments, and confidence for the future.

Laura Miller
Applied ethicist and instructor, Southwestern Illinois College, St. Louis Community College, Fontbonne University, and Webster University

Teacher's guide
Please download the teacher's guide containing  maps, background information, suggested subjects, questions and activities for the series.


1. Sungai Utik: The Fight for Recognition (21:00)
2. Building a Traditional Longhouse as a Cultural Center (11:40)
3. The Dyak Iban Way of Farming (12:30)
4. Homecoming: Indonesian Indigenous Youth Return to the Community (8:20)

Costa Rica and Brazil
5. A Sustainable Solution: Environmental tax to maintain forests in Costa Rica (6:30)
6. Brazil's Warrior Women: Women’s movement wins access to babassu oil (7:30)
7. A Tribute to Dona Dijé, Babassu Woman Warrior: An interview with a leader of the babassu movement (4:10)

These films are unique because they highlight victories for the Indigenous people in their countries. In this series of seven films, we see the impact of the women’s movement on the women of the babassu forest, traditional teaching by the elders of the Sungai Utik people, and success in claiming ownership of the forest that they call home. It is important to me to show that Indigenous peoples are not helpless victims but instead are empowered to act as advocates for themselves in standing up to government entities, corporations, and threats. Here we see Indigenous peoples’ will, strength,and determination that should be celebrated.

Film 1 Sungai Utik: The Fight for Recognition

The Sungai Utik, a Dayak community, follow the cultural practices of their ancestors passed down to them by their elders. For more than 40 years, the Sungai Utik people sought to protect their forested land from interference by government and from the greed of outsiders who were decimating ancient forests and homelands to create lucrative palm oil plantations. In response to the community’s complaints, the government denied the Sungai Utik electricity, paved roads, and fresh water. This hostile treatment drew the attention of NGOs, who helped the Sungai Utik register legal claims to the land on which they lived. On May 1, 2020, the government formally recognized the community’s historical right and relationship to the land.

There are reminders throughout this film series that the land and the Indigenous people are interconnected. This essential connection has led Indigenous people to defend their land and, by extension, their ability to live as their ancestors once lived. In these films we see a cultural center that is a gathering house for the Indigenous community and visitors; we see a fight for land that is also a fight for a future; we see ancestral farming methods; and we see the impact of modernity on the protection of tradition. While there are many focuses of each individual film, and all are worthy, the fundamental connection between land and people remains the common thread.

If land is taken, the Indigenous people disappear. If the land is harmed, so are the Indigenous people. If their land is given to others, pieces of their history are lost. One cannot separate them; they are each part of the other. To provide justice, justice must be given to the land through the people willing to defend it. These films allow us—even if only for a moment—to begin to see what a just Global South would be like.

Read more about teaching environmental justice with documentaries. Download the teacher's guide for If Not Us Then Who?

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