The largest nickel mining company in the world causes conflicts in the rich hills around Lake Matano on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. PT Inco (now belonging to Vale Indonesia) began exploring Sorowako’s nickel in 1968. In 1977, PT Inco opened a smelter and one year later began commercial production. President Suharto’s “New Order” regime made foreign investment a priority. The PT Inco mining operation, owned by Inco Ltd. from Canada, was Indonesia’s second multinational-owned mine to establish under Suharto .
In 1996, Inco signed a second contract, gaining exploration rights in additional zones in South, Southeast and Central Sulawesi. This original contract was later modified and extended to the year 2025 .
Resistance to nickel mining in this region has existed since the beginning of the operation in the late 1960s [1,3]. Karonsi’e Dongi women in particular have been at the forefront of the resistance [2, 4, 6, 12].
According to the organization AMAN , during the mining exploration activities, Inco/Vale have committed many violations. Indigenous communities such as the Karonsi'e Indigenous community, have lost their traditional land and livelihoods, including fruit tree groves.
In 1957, the predominately christian Karonsi’e Dongi people were forced to flee their homes to avoid being killed by rebels seeking to establish an Islamic state following Indonesia’s independence. Before the Karonsi’e Dongi indigenous people returned to their ancestral lands, the Indonesian President signed a contract with the mining company giving it the rights to extract nickel on the island of Sulawesi . The old cemetery, customary forests and rice fields along with the plantations such as sago and coconut, have been turned into an airport, golf course, test drive area, office buildings and housing for the company employees . The Karonsi’e Dongi received no compensation for their lost lands and crops. They were not involved in the land negotiations, or any community consent process [11, 12].
After the ‘New Order Regime’ was over, in the year 2000, the Karonsi’e began returning to their land to rebuild the Karonsi’e Dongi village. According to the Karonsi’e Dongi people, for centuries before the mining companies came, their ancestors lived in the area. Dongi is one of the communities of the Karonsi’e tribe. Karonsi’e means “main rice barn”. Because all the land was taken over by the mining company, they finally built huts along the outskirts of the golf course on abandoned mining land . In the past, they practiced shifting cultivation, cultivating various crops and collecting minor forest products such as rattan and bamboo. Before the mining operations, this land was fertile. It provided livelihoods for rice growers and a variety of fruit and vegetables .
The Karonsi’e Dongi community settled on their traditional land in an attempt to ensure the survival of their community. They have faced constant intimidation by the authorities, the mining company and armed security guards. In 2003, the police and Inco security threatened to burn their huts. Some of them were brought to the police station, interrogated and threatened with a three-month jail sentence. In June 2009, the community was forced to relocate. Some members of the community accepted compensation [3, 11].
By contrast, the mining company believes that the Karonsi’e Dongi indigenous people who live next to Inco/Vale's golf course are illegal settlers in their concession area and Pak Rahim, Inco's External Manager refers to them as "kalian adalah penduduk ilegal” (you are illegal residents) . Despite this uncertainty, the Karonsi’e Dongi people continue to live in their huts beside the Vale golf course. They have no secure water supply, and no electricity. The company cut the electricity of the community in 2016 after the community had connected themselves to the power source in 2013 .
Both parties claim land and ownership rights to the area of 3,905 hectares in Karonsi’e Dongi village. The basis of the company's claim on the customary territory of Karonsi’e Dongi is state law through a mining license granted by the government, both the district and central government. On the other hand, the claims of the indigenous people are based on historical aspects, including the history of migration, the formation of laws and customary institutions, among others .
According to Werima Mananta (Karonsi’e Dongi leader, 2006 during the Canadian government’s roundtable on ‘Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Sector in Developing Countries’)  “ Not all of the Karonsi’e Dongi people are able to return to the village because there is no land to build homes for them. Our forest has been destroyed. Our source of livelihood has been taken away and we have become poor because we are not able to get work with the company. Only a few in our community have worked as labourers at the Inco operation on temporary contracts. Our children are not able to go to school because they cannot afford the school fees. The school fees are very expensive. To feed our families, women have planted vegetables and bananas around the huts. We can no longer grow rice because the land has been destroyed”.
Over the years, newcomers to Sorowako ended up building homes on top of Lake Matano due to no other access to land. This lake has been a disposal site for raw sewage and garbage .
According to numerous studies, the mining project has caused a large number of social, ecological and economic damages. Tracts of the forest have been destroyed together with medicinal herbs and the main raw materials for local consumption and trade. The main freshwater that comes from Larona River and Matano Lake has been contaminated . Road construction and early mining excavation led to the destruction of the irrigation channels so the cultivations have failed in some cases due to lack of water or because the water was polluted with silt . Investigations by Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Indigenous Sorowako Association (KWAS) , have shown results that communities living close to the smelter and the mining activities have suffered air contamination and health problems. They reported that “Communities closer to and downwind from the smelter had significantly higher mean of total suspended particulates and higher concentrations of nickel, cobalt and chromium than communities further away from the smelter” and ”some health conditions typical of exposure to airborne particulates and nickel, such as asthma, rhinitis, and skin cancer, were more prevalent in areas closer to and downwind from nickel mining and smelting compared to communities located further away from the mines and smelter.” Based on their results, they concluded that “there are several positive correlations between air pollution levels, dust fall accumulation in households, and health conditions typically found in nickel industrial areas suggested a potential human health impact of mining and smelting”.
Studies also show how social differentiations have been increasing between original inhabitants and employees of the company. Only a few of the indigenous people are working as labourers on temporary contracts . Moreover, studies demonstrate how the women are affected by the existence of the mining operation in the area [2, 6]. The workload of women in villages has become heavier. The company has taken land and natural resources that is used to sustain the community’s livelihood, and therefore, women have to work harder. Some local women have become “contract wives.” The contract wife phenomenon describes a situation where migrant workers at a mining operation marry a local woman then leave her and the area once their contract is over. Some women, many of them newcomers to the area, have become sex workers. It has been reported that there is more violence against women. Kathryn Robinson, an anthropologist working in Indonesia, describes in a report hard scenes of violence such as this: “The man had taken to drinking at the bars that had opened up to cater for foreign and other migrant workers, and had begun spending all his wages on drink. When drunk, he had raped his teenage daughter” .
The development of Larona and Balambano hydroelectric power plants to supply electricity to Inco/Vale has also caused negative impacts such as the flooding of mosques, forest, houses, rice fields and gardens .
Since the company started operating, there have been various forms of protests and actions such as blockades, demonstrations, sit-ins and hunger strikes and Karonsi’e Dongi women in particular have been at the forefront of this resistance .
Indigenous Sorowako community members have been organizing in groups since the early 1970s to demand a resolution to the land conflicts resolution by negotiating with the local governments. In order to get back their occupied village, they tried to approach the sub-district government. However they failed because the sub district leader clearly said he wants to stop those against government development plans .
In 1995, the Sorowako Indigenous Community Association (KWAS) was formed. During the post-Soeharto era, KWAS has continued to make land claims and demand local employment opportunities, including access to education and training, and permanent employment rather than contract work.
Since 2000, the Karonsi’e Dongi have mobilized in an effort to recover their land and culture. They started asking for the right to access to health facilities among the community . In that year, the Karonsi’e Dongi people formed an organization called the Karonsi’e Dongi Community Alliance (KRAPASKAD). The indigenous woman, Werima Mananta was one of the main leaders of the organization until her death in 2013 .
The Karonsi’e Dongi organizations have alliances with national and international organizations; in Indonesia, with Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM); and the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN); and international alliances with MiningWatch from Canada. Leaders such as Werima Mananta or Andi Baso have made campaign trips to Canada to ask for Canada to take responsibility; according to Vale Indonesia's website, 80 % of Vale Indonesia's annual output is sold to Vale Canada. Vale Canada is also a major shareholder in Vale Indonesia.
According to Glynn and Maimunah researchers and activists of JATAM, the year 2005 marked a flashpoint in the Karonsi’e Dongi resistance. In 2005 over five hundred people staged a blockade at the Inco/Vale mine site. The blockade followed demonstrations, and a week-long sit-in and hunger strike at the Inco regional office in Makassar . University students, the mine workers’ union and non-governmental organizations supported the Karosi’e Dongi people who occupied the Inco office for two days. A seventy-year-old Karonsi’e Dongi woman, two university students, a retrenched Inco/Vale worker, and a representative from the community participated in a three-day hunger strike asking for a meeting with the mining company to discuss and resolve the three decade-old land dispute. They were intimidated and some were arrested . Periodic protests, including road blockades have continued against Inco/Vale since then .
The situation could easily get worse. Today, approximately 170 Karonsi’e Dongi people live in 57 huts in Kurate Lawa and Bumper on 3.5 hectares of land along the Inco/Vale golf course, with no secure water supply, under the watchful eye of armed security. The community finally obtained electricity in 2013 . However, two years later, Inco/Vale cut the electricity to the community in Bumper. Despite an order from the local government and a request from the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, Vale has refused to re-connect the residents to the power grid.
In 2013 the movement lost its leader Werima Manata. She died from a kidney disease. According to her organization, this was due to her dedicated fight for their indigenous territory, involving protests, long distance travels, numerous meetings and negotiations .