Pacific Islands tribe awarded ancestral land from logging company
By RYAN GORMAN
An indigenous tribe living on a remote Pacific Island has defeated a logging company and a former tribal leader trying to take its land, AOL has learned.
The improbable victory came after more than a decade of court battles aimed at awarding the sacred land to a Malaysian firm wanting to strip its natural beauty.
The battle first started in 1989 when Paramount Chief of the Lokuru Danny Philip agreed to rent the land to the company and collect logging royalties as trees were chopped down, said Marilyn Donga Cave. Philip is her grandfather.
The logging company entered into agreements with multiple tribes on multiple islands, she explained. But the agreement with her tribe, the Harero, was invalid because men do not own the land – women do.
"[Men] claimed they owned the tribal land, they started to manipulate, they started to scheme," said Cave.
"We have cultural practices on our island that maybe other people don't understand, we women have a lot of say, we own the land."
Cave's people live on tiny Rendovah Island, part of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.
The tribe then took Philip and his partners to court in 2000 thinking it had an easy case, but instead realized it was caught between two worlds – the modern one and the one in which they live.
"A man keeps giving our land away to logging companies," she said, explaining that greed almost destroyed an ancestral way of life.
But the court process took many years, 14 to be exact, as numerous people including Philip claimed ancestral rights to the land.
The 2001 documentary "Since the Company Came" detailed their struggle as the court proceedings wore on.
It showed how the tribe lives off the land, and how clearing the timber would devastate and forever change their way of life.
As the case wound its way through the courts, other tribes saw their forests stripped of trees, their islands left barren, but Cave still fought on.
Those ancestral claims took more than a decade to invalidate, but Cave said the right decision was made.
Cave currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, but returns to the island every year. She also plans to return for good when she retires. Her children also go at least once a year.
The proud woman also said the victory is proof that even big companies can be defeated by only one person, that standing up for what is right still means something.
"When we equip ourselves with knowledge and information and know our own identity, we can achieve anything."
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