Melanesian land issues: The Lelepa Declaration 2014


Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) Press Release

Date of publication: 
21 March 2014

Vanuatu graciously hosted two very important and interrelated meetings pertaining to common issues within the Melanesian region from 10-14 March 2014 on the island of Lelepa to the Northwest of Efate. These meetings – the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) Meeting and the Preparatory Meeting for the Melanesian Region toward the upcoming 2015 2nd Indigenous Terra Madre in Northeast India – brought together knowledge and experiences of 50 individuals representing organizations from the Solomon Islands, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, West Papua, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Maluku, Kanaky New Caledonia and Vanuatu under the theme “Inseparable – The Land, Food, and People of Melanesia”.

The four-day meeting, which commenced Monday 10th March, was opened by the Minister of Lands for the Republic of Vanuatu, Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, who then went on to contribute to the content of the first day with a presentation on legal challenges and responses to indigenous land alienation. The meeting was organized with a view to strengthen ties through shared Melanesian values and discuss ways to promote traditions and culture through agriculture, land and food practices.

The first two days of the meeting were dedicated to MILDA issues. The meeting heard presentations highlighting infringements on indigenous land rights, as well as abuses to marine resources, in the region and discussed progressive actions towards protecting these vital and life sustaining resources. MILDA, established in 2009, strives to bring indigenous Melanesians together for the purpose of organizing a response to the persistent pressure for registration and leasing of customary land. The previous regional meeting of MILDA was in June, 2010 in Mele Village, Vanuatu.

The second half of the meeting was dedicated to preparations for the 2nd Indigenous Terra Madre to be held in Northeast India in October 2015. The meeting heard from several promoters and practitioners of the Slow Food movement in the region and made some key decisions on what the Melanesian people will showcase at the upcoming international meeting. Slow Food, an international movement founded in 1986, strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.

The people of Lelepa welcomed the opportunity to host the meeting. Participants, which included some of the regions most outspoken proponents for the protection of indigenous knowledge and resources, benefited greatly from the hospitality of the Natapau community on Lelepa providing fresh, organic and local food for the duration of the meeting. The official closing of the meeting culminated in a Melanesian feast prepared by the community, complete with stringband entertainment and kava.

Prior to closing, the meeting agreed to share with the world their views and values in the form of a powerful declaration meant to re-affirm what MILDA is about.

The Lelepa Declaration 2014

The declaration of the 3rd meeting of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA), held at Natapao Village on the island of Lelepa, Vanuatu, 10-11 March 2014

In response to continued and increasing severity of threats to customary land systems posed by the land reform and other foreign development agendas of international financial institutions, aid agencies, governments and elites within our own countries, the third meeting of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA) re-affirms its commitment to indigenous control of customary land systems and Melanesian development goals. We are united and organized as a region to defend the continued control of Melanesian communities over their land, sea, water, air and ancestral heritage, recognising that the threats to customary land are directed against the Melanesian Pacific as a region. We re-assert that the customary land systems are the basis of life and community in Melanesia.

MILDA is an alliance of groups and individuals with a shared vision and commitment to working together united by a common cause to protect our indigenous land extending from the surface of the ground to the centre of the earth and underneath the sea, including our ecosystems, biodiversity, intangible cultural heritage, the waters of our rivers, streams and air. Our members comprise church and traditional leaders, fieldworkers, community members including men, women, youths, children and people with special needs, academics, regional NGOs and international supporters.

Land has and always will be of the highest value to the lives of our peoples, and so it will be for generations to come. In all Melanesian traditions, land is regarded as a non-alienable resource that cannot be parted with. The relationship which we have with our land is special and unique, and cannot be replaced by foreign value systems. The Melanesian definition of land is collective and inclusive. We are custodians of the land since time immemorial.
Land is our mother and the source of life for our people. Land secures life, fosters and strengthens relationships that sustain our society. It embodies the connections to our past, present and future and therefore sustains everything we aspire to. MILDA members, hailing from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Fiji, Kanaky, Papua New Guinea, Maluku, Solomon Islands, West Papua, and Vanuatu, reaffirm the sanctity of land.
We declare the following:

1. As Indigenous Peoples of Melanesia we are committed to upholding and safeguarding our Melanesian indigenous traditional and cultural heritage, customs, values and beliefs.
2. We acknowledge and support the value and use of Traditional Resource Management, Traditional Knowledge and vernacular language in the sustainable management of, and cultural links with, the environment and natural resources.
3. We oppose any form of alienation of land and sea from customary landowners, whether by outright sale, leases or acquisition which remove landowners’ capacity to effectively control, access and use their land and sea.
4. We believe that the ways in which land is used and distributed should be determined by Melanesian custom, and not by foreign systems.
5. We assert the value of our traditional economy, which promotes self-reliance amongst our people and communities, and we oppose actions and policies which promote the dependency of Melanesian peoples on others, including the State.
6. We say NO to all policies which require customary land be registered as a precondition for business or development activities, and demand that Melanesian governments and aid donors cease all pressures for customary land registration, whether voluntary or involuntary.
7. We are opposed to any form of experimental seabed resource extraction from our seas.
8. We oppose all foreign programs, bribes and other methods that take away the right to self-determination over our lands, reflective in Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including customary land registration, foreign land grabbing, and extractive industries in Melanesia.
9. We call for a total review of the current land administration in Melanesia to eliminate corrupt land dealings and fraudulent land practices. All customary land acquired by these means should be returned to the rightful ancestral inheritors.