Empowering Indigenous People through Online Campaigns

Campaigns in Papua, Indonesia teach us about the role of online organizing for indigenous rights

By Dhenok Pratiwi, Campaign Manager, Change.org Indonesia

Indigenous people around the world face oppression and violence. Natural resources that are important for their livelihoods are often undermined and under attack. Faced with intimidation and limited access to the internet, indigenous people often find that their campaigns do not reach large numbers of people.

So how can online mobilization add value to indigenous campaigns?


Over the past year, the Change.org team in Indonesia has supported campaigns from indigenous communities in Papua, many of whom face injustice, conflict, and violence.

One of these campaigns was started by Jan, a man from West Papua, part of the most eastern island of Indonesia. His tribe is the Mpur tribe of Kebar and his people have been speaking out for years on how their ancestral lands are being unjustly taken by palm oil plantations under permits that were given by the government, without the best interest of the local people. 

One of the challenges of indigenous rights campaigns is that the people affected and their campaigns are often in remote places without access to the internet, which makes communicating and coordinating a campaign with external partners a challenge. Jan however was studying in Yogyakarta, and with occasional travel to Jakarta, we had a unique opportunity to meet with him face to face.

The face to face meeting proved to be very valuable, enabling us to learn about his personal story, and why this was important for him. It also ensured that we didn’t suggest a framing and strategy only based on our experience of previous campaigns, but one that reflected his own concerns and language.

We helped Jan set up a petition that ultimately pushed the Minister of Environment and Forestry to revoke the palm oil permits and garnered the support of over 120 thousand people across Indonesia. 

We discussed the media strategy for this campaign at length. We often use a national media approach, while Jan’s media contacts were more with local media, the community, and local officials. It was when these two approaches were synced that the momentum really came through; we generated public awareness at the national level, and Jan built mobilization and engagement on the local level. 

Alongside Jan’s petition, we also made sure we were promoting several other petitions by Papuans to show the broad range of stories from the region. We created and promoted an Instagram page that told the stories of campaigners from Papua as empowered citizens. This ensured not only “awareness” but also “affinity” to Papuan issues.

Thanks to the way we worked together to frame the petition, Jan’s story and the different types of media outreach, Jan’s petition received broad support from Indonesians across the country – including from people living far away in big cities. 

120,000 people supported him in his campaign and the national government started to pay attention. Along with the petition, a group of tribe leaders from West Papua came to Jakarta to meet with several ministries on this particular issue, and deliver Jan’s petition. 

Jan, his petition, and the 120,000 supporters became a significant part in these meetings. It showed two very important elements that pushed the government to act. One that people were directly affected by the problem, but also the support of people across Indonesia that, while not directly affected, still resonated deeply with the issue. 

In response to Jan’s campaign and the many others that supported of indigenous people’s land rights, the government has publicly re-committed to revoking permits that have illegally seized indigenous people’s land.

This is part of a series of blogs exploring how we are creating a bridge between indigenous people’s campaigns and the rest of Indonesia.