A previous activist video on West Papua Independence Day. Video: Free West Papua
Indigenous groups from around Oceania have sent their support to the ongoing struggle in North Dakota in the United States.
While protesters at Standing Rock and West Papua may seem worlds apart, they share a common bond from an indigenous struggle against a larger oppressor, says West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda in a letter of solidarity and friendship.
“On behalf of the people of West Papua we offer solidarity to our indigenous brothers and sisters as we intimately understand the complicated struggles they are facing,” said Wenda via his website.
While last Thursday marked “West Papuan Independence Day,” the indigenous Melanesian people in West Papua are still subject to neo-colonial rule by Indonesia and have been struggling for independence for more than five decades.
West Papuans raising the banned Morning Star flag in defiance of Indonesian authorities in Yahukimo in the Highlands last Thursday. Image: Benny Wenda
Wenda said his independence movement was drawing parallels and inspiration from the ongoing protests in North Dakota and was “alarmed that their people, lands, and traditional ways of life have become threatened to the point of extinction.”
“As we witness militarised law enforcement agencies commit acts of violence against peaceful water protectors in the US, it reminds us of our own mistreatment at the hands of those intending to overpower and silence our voices,” he said.
Wenda, who is currently living in exile in the United Kingdom, added that “the urgent situation at Standing Rock reminds us to advocate for the right of every Indigenous person to protect their culture and religion, tribal systems and natural resources”.
Around the world, supporters joined the celebration of West Papuan Independence Day through the hashtags #GlobalFlagRaising and #LetWestPapuaVote.
Because of a widespread media blackout by Indonesia, the independence movement gains little international coverage, but has increasingly taken to social media to raise awareness.
Wenda and Melbourne producer Airileke Ingram also released the track Sorong Samaraito coincide with the day.
On 1 December 1961, Melanesian West Papuan first raised their Morning Star flag, but were then annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a controversial referendum after previously winning their independence from Dutch colonialism in 1963 and then being invaded by Indonesian paratroops.
In ongoing oppression, about 500,000 Melanesians are thought to have been killed by Indonesian authorities and face restrictions of movement and assembly, with many protesters being held as political prisoners.
Indigenous groups in Australia and New Zealand have also expressed their support for West Papua and Standing Rock.
A solidarity for West Papua rally at the Sydney Opera House at the weekend. Image: Australia West Papua Association (AWPA)
A number of New Zealanders from the Māori community have started posting versions of their traditional haka war dance to social media as a show of solidarity to the North American protesters.
“When one group of relations is being hurt, abused, being bullied, being ripped off, we all feel that – especially us as Māori – we are very much a leader to the indigenous people,” Te Hamura Nikora told Radio New Zealand.