Distributor:  Global Environmental Justice
Length:  21 minutes
Date:  2020
Genre:  Expository
Language:  Indonesian; English / English subtitles
Color/BW:  Color
Closed captioning available


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

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Sungai Utik :The fight for recognition

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* New title added January 2023 *

If Not Us Then Who?  Film 1 of 7 
Kynan Tegar, a young local filmmaker describes a 20-year campaign to win recognition of the community's Indigenous rights.

Sungai Utik :The fight for recognition

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?

Download the Teacher's Guide


00:00:56.260 --> 00:00:59.720
First I'll tell the story of
how we moved from Lanjak

00:01:01.940 --> 00:01:03.760
Our ancestors...

00:01:04.900 --> 00:01:07.620
because they always got along
with the Embaloh people

00:01:08.020 --> 00:01:10.160
they've lived
with the Embalohs

00:01:10.700 --> 00:01:13.420
and so they asked them
for a piece of land

00:01:13.700 --> 00:01:16.740
"we're searching
for a vast territory"

00:01:18.420 --> 00:01:21.200
they asked the tribe's nobleman
Malin Malunsa

00:01:21.980 --> 00:01:25.560
and so Malin Malunsa gave them
the territory of Sungai Utik

00:01:26.780 --> 00:01:30.300
"if you can live alongside us,
over there is your land"

00:01:30.900 --> 00:01:33.900
"over there
is your land"

00:01:34.720 --> 00:01:39.120
"it was our land, this is the land
where our village once was"

00:01:39.680 --> 00:01:44.560
"now we give it to you,
all the fruits of this land is yours"

00:01:57.240 --> 00:02:00.960
In the past,
our grandpa Judan

00:02:00.960 --> 00:02:06.260
asked for this territory
from the Ulak Pauk nobleman

00:02:06.260 --> 00:02:09.240
Malin Malunsa

00:02:11.420 --> 00:02:15.780
to Judan he said
"you can move there"

00:02:16.320 --> 00:02:20.120
"Even if there is only one
of you living here"

00:02:20.120 --> 00:02:25.700
"the territory still belongs to that person"
said grandpa Malin Malunsa

00:02:27.040 --> 00:02:30.980
what he meant was that
we must protect this territory

00:02:30.980 --> 00:02:35.860
we have to care for it and
preserve it for our descendants

00:02:36.080 --> 00:02:42.000
this is the way that
we must pass down the story

00:02:55.980 --> 00:03:02.040
if all our trees are
cut down and taken

00:03:03.560 --> 00:03:10.180
what would we do
if we no longer had any trees left

00:03:34.980 --> 00:03:38.780
When people first came here,
wanting to take our land

00:03:39.620 --> 00:03:41.160
we refused them

00:03:41.600 --> 00:03:46.080
Bumi Raya Limited and Lanjak Entimau Limited
tried to come here

00:03:46.080 --> 00:03:48.500
many many companies tried
to come into our forest

00:03:48.500 --> 00:03:49.960
we drove them
all away

00:03:49.960 --> 00:03:53.540
even when the biggest logger,
Apheng came we rejected it as well

00:03:53.540 --> 00:03:55.800
we do not
want it

00:03:55.860 --> 00:03:58.280
this is our territory
and we don't want it to be ruined

00:03:58.280 --> 00:04:02.380
the land, the fruits,
the fish here are ours

00:04:02.380 --> 00:04:05.140
the trees here
are ours

00:04:05.140 --> 00:04:09.160
this customary territory
is ours to protect

00:04:52.000 --> 00:04:55.040
most people see the forest's value
as money,  we don't,

00:04:55.040 --> 00:04:57.980
what we care more for
is natural wealth

00:04:58.520 --> 00:05:01.200
If what we wanted was money,
then we would've sold

00:05:01.200 --> 00:05:02.920
all the trees in our forest

00:05:03.360 --> 00:05:06.160
but when the trees run out
so will the money

00:05:08.120 --> 00:05:11.360
if we have unity in the community
it's easy

00:05:11.480 --> 00:05:17.420
the companies still have to ask us,
and if we are in unison we can reject them

00:05:18.900 --> 00:05:21.740
natural wealth means that
we plant these trees

00:05:21.740 --> 00:05:25.200
and they will continue to replenish
never running out

00:05:25.200 --> 00:05:29.580
our rule is when you cut one tree down
you plant 2 more

00:05:56.720 --> 00:06:00.420
when we are about
to cut down a tree for building

00:06:00.820 --> 00:06:04.560
we make an offering
with a ritual

00:06:05.780 --> 00:06:09.455
so as to not disturb
the forest

00:06:11.640 --> 00:06:16.120
not because we cherish the trees,
we use them as building material

00:06:16.980 --> 00:06:18.420
never as something
to be sold

00:06:20.240 --> 00:06:23.220
this is why we have
protected the forest,

00:06:23.220 --> 00:06:26.580
it's where we get
the building blocks for our houses

00:06:27.540 --> 00:06:29.540
we depend
on the forest

00:06:30.240 --> 00:06:34.460
these trees are difficult to find,
once you cut it down

00:06:34.460 --> 00:06:36.960
it takes hundreds of years
to regrow

00:06:40.040 --> 00:06:48.140
we have protected these forests,
never letting anyone or any company take it

00:06:48.260 --> 00:06:52.700
we protect these forest
for our future grandchildren

00:06:53.660 --> 00:06:59.140
we don't want the land to be ruined,
the river to be contaminated

00:07:00.160 --> 00:07:03.140
the forest is still here

00:07:03.300 --> 00:07:06.580
there are still many trees

00:07:07.720 --> 00:07:13.200
like what we are doing here,
we don't want to use tin roofs

00:07:14.180 --> 00:07:16.860
it has to be wood

00:07:29.200 --> 00:07:37.160
since 1996 Sungai Utik
have started organizing ourselves

00:07:37.640 --> 00:07:43.080
many NGOs helped and had discussions
alongside the community

00:07:45.220 --> 00:07:51.900
in 1998 everybody agreed
that Sungai Utik has to be mapped

00:07:54.960 --> 00:07:59.020
this is so that we know
how vast our territory is

00:07:59.020 --> 00:08:03.120
so that we know what exists
within our customary territory

00:08:03.120 --> 00:08:06.820
the type of trees,
everything was identified

00:08:08.880 --> 00:08:18.140
and also so we all know
where the boundary between the villages are

00:08:24.160 --> 00:08:27.620
our customary territory
is split into different zonations

00:08:28.260 --> 00:08:32.700
Kampung Galau

00:08:32.720 --> 00:08:34.840
Kampung Taroh

00:08:34.840 --> 00:08:35.980
Kampung Endor Kerja

00:08:42.800 --> 00:08:50.160
Kampung Taroh is the protected forest,
and we will protect it forever

00:08:50.260 --> 00:08:55.820
the protected forest keeps
our water sources clean

00:08:55.980 --> 00:09:00.060
that is why it's important to us

00:09:12.460 --> 00:09:20.100
and then the Kampung Galau,
it is also a protected forest

00:09:21.720 --> 00:09:27.700
but if the trees in the production forest are
still small then we won't cut it down

00:09:27.880 --> 00:09:33.720
instead we'll search for trees in the Kampung Galau,
and even then it's done very selectively

00:09:59.520 --> 00:10:06.400
Kampung Endur Kerja is where we go
to find wood when we are building

00:10:07.460 --> 00:10:16.180
the small trees will grow big, and so we only take
what we need for the community

00:10:30.340 --> 00:10:32.080
people saw that

00:10:32.080 --> 00:10:38.760
here is a community
that has truly protected their territory

00:10:40.500 --> 00:10:43.720
we received the Kalpataru award

00:10:44.105 --> 00:10:47.145
the Equator Prize from the UNDP

00:10:47.145 --> 00:10:51.200
and it meant a lot for Sungai Utik's fight

00:10:56.700 --> 00:11:04.400
we have protected our territory this far
not just for ourselves,

00:11:04.400 --> 00:11:08.220
and people saw
our sincerity in this fight

00:11:11.500 --> 00:11:18.320
we have gone through
many difficulties and hardships

00:11:20.180 --> 00:11:27.180
it's not just about
receiving the awards

00:11:27.260 --> 00:11:32.940
our aim wasn't to receive these awards,
that wasn't our purpose,

00:11:32.940 --> 00:11:35.480
that's not what
we were hoping for

00:11:35.480 --> 00:11:39.020
but it's more that
we were certain

00:11:39.020 --> 00:11:42.220
from the very start we wanted
to protect this territory,

00:11:42.220 --> 00:11:46.840
without hoping for
any compensation from anyone

00:11:55.780 --> 00:12:01.860
for more than 20 years
we have fought

00:12:01.860 --> 00:12:05.220
so that we can protect
this territory

00:12:05.220 --> 00:12:09.340
and to receive legal recognition of it
from the government

00:12:19.800 --> 00:12:25.220
our first step in the fight
is to work alongside NGOs

00:12:25.220 --> 00:12:31.280
to create a map
for our customary territory

00:12:31.480 --> 00:12:37.540
after seeing the map it was clear
that there is an indigenous community that owns it

00:12:37.540 --> 00:12:42.400
a community that is still hanging on to their
customary beliefs, still practice their rituals

00:12:42.680 --> 00:12:46.560
that still has their customary forest,
still has their traditional clothes

00:12:46.560 --> 00:12:56.980
the government saw that this is a community that
they have to legally recognize

00:13:06.820 --> 00:13:09.320
Here Apai Janggut-

00:13:11.820 --> 00:13:13.840
and with that the community
and our customary territory

00:13:13.840 --> 00:13:17.100
is legally recognized
by the local government

00:13:17.100 --> 00:13:26.580
according to the decree issued by the head of district,
on the 30th of October 2019

00:13:28.980 --> 00:13:32.500
first point, there exist
an indigenous community

00:13:32.500 --> 00:13:35.980
that has been recognized
by the local government with a decree

00:13:38.580 --> 00:13:43.040
there exist a customary territory
that's partially or fully forest

00:13:43.040 --> 00:13:44.860
there is, valid

00:13:49.180 --> 00:13:52.680
the verification team
have all signed it

00:13:52.680 --> 00:13:56.420
you have waited long
for this process

00:13:56.420 --> 00:14:00.140
all that's left is to ask
Apai to sign it

00:15:10.040 --> 00:15:13.320
we now have a decree
recognizing our customary forest

00:15:13.660 --> 00:15:18.060
from the Ministry of Environment
and Forestry of Indonesia

00:15:19.000 --> 00:15:23.080
we wanted it to legally be
a customary forest

00:15:23.080 --> 00:15:27.200
because it is
a rights-based system

00:15:27.200 --> 00:15:33.420
meaning the community is given the freedom
to manage their customary territory

00:15:33.420 --> 00:15:38.860
according to their traditional
way of living

00:15:38.860 --> 00:15:43.260
if the community is still able
to take care of and manage their territory

00:15:43.260 --> 00:15:46.540
then the territory will still belong
to the community

00:15:46.540 --> 00:15:48.460
that is
what we want!

00:15:54.060 --> 00:15:58.340
we don't want them to
give differing rights

00:16:04.900 --> 00:16:08.820
they could have given
concession rights

00:16:08.820 --> 00:16:11.920
they could've given it
to palm oil companies

00:16:11.920 --> 00:16:14.980
if it is owned by
the people of Sungai Utik

00:16:14.980 --> 00:16:19.340
like it is now that it's been recognized
as a customary forest

00:16:19.340 --> 00:16:22.580
this means that if the government
wants to do something here

00:16:22.580 --> 00:16:25.020
they need permission
from the people

00:16:25.300 --> 00:16:28.200
if they don't ask for permission,
then they are breaking the rules

00:16:28.200 --> 00:16:29.720
that they've
put up

00:16:41.060 --> 00:16:45.220
This is the bird's wood,
it is to protect our kids

00:16:45.500 --> 00:16:48.840
protect our wood
and our land

00:16:48.920 --> 00:16:50.940
freed from dangers

00:16:50.940 --> 00:16:53.200
our fields yield
good paddy

00:16:58.620 --> 00:17:06.140
thank you to everyone who has helped us
in every step of our journey

00:17:06.140 --> 00:17:10.360
may it be from an organization
or individually

00:17:10.360 --> 00:17:13.120
from Indonesia
or from abroad

00:17:13.120 --> 00:17:15.400
thank you
from all of us

00:17:36.740 --> 00:17:43.240
we at Sungai Utik
see an opportunity

00:17:43.700 --> 00:17:48.060
it's not enough
just to protect it

00:17:48.060 --> 00:17:55.440
we need to be able to do this sustainably,
and we can do that with tourism

00:18:00.140 --> 00:18:06.620
we saw that it was in line
with what we wanted

00:18:06.620 --> 00:18:10.680
they want to walk in our forest,
to see the towering trees

00:18:10.680 --> 00:18:16.780
they want to go upstream of the river,
the water is still clear

00:18:36.840 --> 00:18:41.140
the guests that come here
doesn't cause any harm

00:18:41.280 --> 00:18:46.120
they bring
many positive impacts

00:18:48.760 --> 00:18:52.040
it's important
for Sungai Utik

00:18:52.040 --> 00:18:57.200
if we want a sustainable
and independent future

00:18:57.200 --> 00:19:05.120
we have to protect this customary forest
forever and ever

00:19:05.120 --> 00:19:10.920
it will never run out and
it will be passed down to our children

00:19:16.160 --> 00:19:20.700
if it's not protected then
this forest will be gone

00:19:21.300 --> 00:19:24.320
then there won't be any forest
for our grandchildren

00:19:24.320 --> 00:19:27.500
this customary territory
belongs to us

00:19:53.100 --> 00:19:57.260
♪ We are the kids of Sungai utik ♪

00:19:58.000 --> 00:20:02.980
Born from seeds of water

00:20:03.220 --> 00:20:10.120
We play in the river,  we play in the forest,
we play in the fields

00:20:10.480 --> 00:20:14.160
Oh! what fun

00:20:14.380 --> 00:20:17.940
We are the kids of Sungai Utik

00:20:18.000 --> 00:20:22.140
Raised in the forest

00:20:22.180 --> 00:20:28.500
We like to dance, we like to sing,
we look for fish

00:20:28.800 --> 00:20:32.120
Oh! What fun

00:20:32.280 --> 00:20:39.240
Ancestral lands,
don't ever let go off it

00:20:39.440 --> 00:20:44.160
For temporary gains

00:20:44.220 --> 00:20:50.840
Our Ancestral lands, this river,
this forest

00:20:50.960 --> 00:20:54.320
Are our lives forever


If Not Us Then Who?
Reviews by Isadora Lambert for Video Librarian 21 April 2023

The seven short films collected in If Not Us Then Who? chronicle sustainable practices in the forests of Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Brazil. While many environmental documentaries focus on the devastation humankind inflicts upon the world, these seven films demonstrate resilience and hope for the future.

Part One: Indonesia

Sungai Utik: The fight for recognition (21 min)

The first film in “If Not Us Then Who?” is Sungai Utik: The fight for recognition. At 21 minutes, this is the longest film in the collection. Sungai Utik profiles a Dayak community that follows sustainable practices passed down by their ancestors to protect forest lands. While outsiders see the financial gain in exploiting the forest’s resources, the Sungai Utik take only the resources they need and repay the earth for what they take by planting new trees. The film follows their quest to receive legal protection and fair treatment from the government.

Building a Longhouse as a Cultural Center (12 min)

The second film in the collection follows the Sungai Utik people as they build a traditional longhouse for the first time in fifty years. This building acts a cultural center where the community can gather, attend school, make food, and live together. The indigenous filmmaker of Building a Longhouse as a Cultural Center emphasizes the community effort that makes this construction possible and pays particular attention to the elders in the community.

The Dyak Iban Way of Farming (13 min)

This documentary short discusses traditional Dayak Iban farming methods. Their process involves rotating farmlands and utilizing carefully controlled burning. Although this is a traditional technique, the government has deemed controlled burning illegal due to pollution and forest fires. However, the true environmental damage is caused by massive palm oil plantations. The Dyak Iban Way of Farming demonstrates the cultural and ecological value of maintaining traditional practices.

Homecoming: Indigenous youth return to the land (8 min)

Homecoming: Indigenous youth return to the land focuses on Indigenous youth and how crucial this generation is to environmental activism. While many youths choose to leave their communities to study and work in cities, this documentary examines those who choose to return in order to help their communities by integrating tradition with sustainable planning.

Part Two: Costa Rica/ Brazil

A Sustainable Solution: Environmental tax to maintain forests in Costa Rica (7 min)

This documentary short highlights the impact Indigenous people have made in reducing logging in Costa Rica. A government program called Payment for Environmental Services supports sustainable practices and motivates communities. A Sustainable Solution proves that government intervention can have a positive impact on the environment.

Brazil's Warrior Women: Women’s movement wins access to babassu oil (8 min)

In Brazil, 400,000 women harvest nuts from the babassu palm in order to maintain a living. However, some ranchers and farmers pose a threat to these women, threatening to physically ban the women from the fields. Brazil's Warrior Women follows the passing of a law that allows these women to remain in the fields and provide for their families.


A Tribute to Dona Dije, Babassu Woman Warrior: An interview with the leader of the babassu movement (4 min)

A Tribute to Dona Dijé, Babassu Woman Warrior pays special tribute to Dona Dijé, a central organizer of the Babassu movement. In this interview, she reflects on how the movement has impacted both the protection of women as well as the Amazon.

These seven documentary films are unique in their emphasis on how Indigenous communities influence environmental conservation. “If Not Us Then Who?” champions perspectives that are often not shown on screen. These inspiring stories would be welcome in both high school and college classrooms.

What academic subjects would this film be suitable for?

This film would be suitable for students and library patrons interested in environmental studies, public policy, political science, and global studies.

How does this film contribute to a discussion of environmental or climate justice, and/or to environmental literacy? 

If Not Us Then Who? contributes to discussions of climate justice by demonstrating solutions for environmental issues, and prioritizing indigenous voices.

What type of library programming could use this title?

These short films would be perfect for library programming events focused on sustainable solutions for the future.


Recipient of the United Nations Equator Iniative Prize

"The Indigenous Group of Dayak Iban Sungai Utik Longhouse has led a 40-year campaign to obtain legal recognition of land rights to the group’s 10,087-hectare customary forest in Indonesian Borneo. By consistently defending its land against illegal logging, palm oil production, and corporate interests, the group has protected an estimated 1.31 million metric tonnes of forest-based carbon. Known as the Sungai Utik forest guardians, the group lives in West Kalimantan in a 216-metre-long traditional longhouse accommodating 276 people. The people of Sungai Utik sustainably manage their forest in accordance with customary laws, reserving 6,000 hectares as protected forest and using 3,504 hectares for crop cultivation managed in a traditional rotation system. This management system provides the group with food, medicine, and clean water. Valuing nature and cultural integrity over temporary wealth from the sale of their land, the Dayak Iban people illustrate the power of sustainable Indigenous management for climate change mitigation and human well-being."


Main credits

Tegar, Kynan (filmmaker)

Distributor credits

Tim Lewis

Kynan Tegar, Tim Lewis

Docuseek subjects

Indigenous Studies
Forests and Rainforests
Conservation and Protection
Cultural Anthropology
Global / International Studies
Women's Studies
Women's History
Environmental Law

Distributor subjects

Indonesia,Indigenous Rights,Deforestation,Logging,Sustainability,Conservation Law,Biodiversity,Cultural Ethnography,Government,United Nations,Indigenous Rights, Conservation Law,Cultural Relativism,Poverty,Ecotourism,reservation,Ethnography,Sustainability,Government Taxation Policy,Women’s Movements


Indigenous,land rights,Indonesia,Dyak Iban,Borneo,Kalimantan,guardians,forest, longhouse,Sungai Utik,Kynan Tegar,Paul Redman,policy, recognition,United Nations Equator Prize,poverty,sustainable forestry,palm oil,If Not Us Then Who?,longhouse,Film 1: Sungai Utik, Dayak Iban,Dayaks, Borneo, Indonesia,Embaloh people, Bumi Raya Limited,Lanjak Entimau Limited,Apheng, NGOs, Kampung Galau; reserve forest, Kampung Taroh; protected forest, Kampung; Endor Kerja production forest,; Kalpataru Award, Equator Prize; from the United Nations; Development Programme,; hutan adat (customary forest),; Ministry of Environment and; Forestry of Indonesia; " Sungai Utik"; Indonesia; Indigenous Studies; Forestry; Forests and Rainforests; Sustainability; Conservation and Protection; Biodiversity; Ethnography; Cultural Anthropology; Global / International Studies; Women's Studies; Women's History; Poverty; Environmental Law;

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