PETALING JAYA: Alena Murang, who has mixed parentage, discovered only as an adult that she was not legally “native” in her homeland, Sarawak.
Alena, 32, a musician, songwriter and visual artist, said she and many others were oblivious to the issue. Her birth certificate said she was a Kelabit.
Her father Ose Murang, 67, is a Dayak Kelabit community leader and her mother is European.
“Only when I was an adult did I come to understand that in Sarawak, mixed children like myself are not legally native.
“I was surprised to find out that because of this, we couldn’t inherit ancestral land. It was odd that though I have access to Amanah Saham Bumiputera, I don’t have access to native land,” she told FMT.
It was only recently that a long-awaited amendment to the Federal Constitution was passed by Parliament, which would allow Sarawakian children of native and non-native parents to finally be legally recognised as natives.
Alena said people like her would need to fill in a form to apply to be “deemed native” and submit it to the Native Courts of Sarawak.
“Why do we need to ‘apply’ to be native? It’s like if I had to apply to be a woman. I’m born a native woman. It’s my birthright.
“As native people, our identity is tied to our land. Our songs are about land, our stories are about our land, we know who planted what fruit trees three generations ago. It’s so important for us,” she said.
Her father, Ose, said he had known many families who were in the same situation who applied for their children to be deemed natives.
“The process and procedures are very cumbersome and fraught with issues of cultural and administrative challenges,” he said. Now that Parliament has passed the amendment on the definition of natives, it will pave the way for the state assembly to amend the definition of natives in the Interpretation Ordinance 2005.
Veronica Matthew, 31, who has mixed Indian and Bidayuh ancestry, said growing up was challenging while being “marked” as a non-native Sarawakian.
As her mum is a single mother and she did not want to burden her with expensive private university fees, she recalled how she could not enter any local university despite having qualifying results for admission.
“It’s quite disappointing to see the requirements which mostly state ‘For bumiputras only’,” she said.
Sarawakian lawyer Simon Siah said he has helped a few clients to file applications to the native courts to be recognised as natives but none of them has been approved.
“I once asked a native court officer how long the process would take, and the person told me the fastest was six years,” he said.
Although Parliament has approved the constitutional amendments, which have yet to receive royal assent, they will not take effect until the Sarawak state assembly has amended the state’s Interpretation Ordinance to reflect the amendments.