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Karonsi'e Dongi people and Vale mine in Sorowako, Sulawesi, Indonesia


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 [6].

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 [1]. 

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 [3], 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 [11]. 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 [3]. 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”[12]. 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 [11]. 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 [2]. 

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) [3]. 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 [3].

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 [13].

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’) [11] “ 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 [7]. 

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 [2]. 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 [5]. Investigations by Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Indigenous Sorowako Association (KWAS) [7], 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 [2].  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” [6].

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 [3]. 

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 [2].

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 [12]. 

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 [12]. 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 [2]. 

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 [15]. 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 [11]. Periodic protests, including road blockades have continued against Inco/Vale since then [6]. 

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 [3]. 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 [2].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Karonsi'e Dongi people and Vale mine in Sorowako, Sulawesi, Indonesia
State or province:South Sulawesi
Location of conflict:Sorowako, Witamorini, Sorowako, Luwu Timor
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral ore exploration
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Mineral processing
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

This is the largest nickel laterite operation in the world. Although Dutch explorers sampled the nickel laterite near Lake Matano on Sulawesi Island in the early 1900s, it was not until 1968 that PT Inco officially began operations in Indonesia [1].

Previously, PT Vale Indonesia was called PT International Nickel Indonesia or PT Inco. Nowadays, Vale Indonesia's majority shareholder is Vale Canada which owns 59.73% , 20.09% by Sumitomo Metal mining; and 21.8 % publicly owned as a result of share divestment [10]. The company signed a contract with the Indonesian Government in 1968. The full production started in 1978. In 1996, PT Inco signed a second contract, gaining exploration rights in additional zones in South, Southeast and Central Sulawesi. This original contract later on got modified and extended up to 2025 [1]. . The extracted nickel is sold to factories in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China.[2]

PT Inco/PT Vale Indonesia has gained high profits from its operations in Sulawesi. At the government level, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the district governments of Luwu Timur Regency, the provincial government of South Sulawesi as well as the central government of Indonesia are involved in the mining project. [2, 3]. Processing plant capacity is 72,500 tons of nickel per year, with 75% of nickel content [3].

Hydroelectric power plants were developed to supply electricity to PT. Vale. Larona started its operations in 1979. It consists of three turbines with continuous power capacity of 165 megawatts [14]. Balambano power plant has two turbines with continuous power capacity of 110 megawatts. It was built in 1995 and started operations in 1999 [13, 14].

Project area:218,528 [13]
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:261,199 [13]
Start of the conflict:1968
Company names or state enterprises:Vale Indonesia from Brazil
Vale Canada Ltd from Canada - 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
Vale (Vale) from Brazil
Pt Inco from Brazil - PT Inco is a Nickel Mine (Sulawesi) in Indonesia owned by Vale
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Karonsi’e Dongi Community Alliance (KRAPASKAD)
Indigenous Sorowako Association (KW AS)
Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN)
Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM)
MiningWatch Canada
Public Service Alliance of Canada
Development and Peace

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Karonsi'e Dogi community, Padoe and Tambe’e villages
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Hunger strikes and self immolation
assessing the environmental and potential human health impacts
They generated a map of their traditional land with the knowledge of elders and used it to tell the story of how their community became displaced and dispossessed


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Other Environmental impactsIncreasing suspended particulates (TSP) and airborne metal concentrations (Ni, Co and Cr )
Health ImpactsVisible: Deaths, Other Health impacts
Potential: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsasthma, rhinitis, and skin tumours [7]
Indigenous woman Werima Mananta died in 2013 due to her dedicated fight for their indigenous territory [2]
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain: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 [3]. 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.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Law No. 51 PRP 1960

Pasal 1 butir 31 Undang-Undang Nomor 32 Tahun 2009 tentang Perlindungan dan Pengelolaan Lingkungan Hidup menyebutkan bahwa Masyarakat Hukum Adat adalah (Article 1 point 31 of Law Number 32 Year 2009 concerning Environmental Protection and Management states that Customary Law Communities)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Mining the WOMB of the Earth. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) Foundation, 2013

[3] Alliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN). 2016. “Konflik Agraria Masyarakat Adat

Atas Wilayahnya di Kawasan Hutan.” Book 3. Accessed online on February 2019

[5] Robinson 1986. Stepchildren of progress : the political economy of development in an Indonesian mining town. Accessed online on 28 February 2019

[6] Robinson 2002. Oxfam. Labour, love and loss: mining and the displacement of women's labour.Accessed online on 28 February 2019


[8] Chris Ballard. 2006. Human Rights and the Mining Sector in Indonesia: A Baseline Study. IIED. Canada. Accessed online on 28 February 2019

[11] Tracy Glynn. 2010. RECLAIMING RIGHTS: THE ONGOING STRUGGLES OF THE SOROWAKO. International Women and Mining Network (RIMM)


[12] WOMAN in Environment & Natural Resources Management Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI)


[1] Mining atlas

[4] KARONSI’E DONGI & SOROWAKO WOMEN.Accessed online on February 28, 2019

[9] Inco says protest ends at Indonesian nickel mine. AUGUST 11, 2009. Accessed online on 3 March 2019.

[10] Sorowako, South Sulawesi – PT Vale. Accessed on line 3 March 2019.

[14] Larona Hydroelectric Plant. Online accessed on 11th March 2019

[15] Protests and Blockades Continue Against Inco in Indonesia. Press Release, September 28, 2005. Online accessed on 11th March

Farmers protest in Sulawesi: “Mining is destroying our lives”. 2011. Accessed on line 3 March 2019.“mining-is-destroying-our-lives”/

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Community Statement on Inco in Sulawesi: Thirty years - and justice still denied Published by MAC on 2003-10-02

Meta information

Contributor:ICTA-UAB and Tracy Glynn
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:4009



Inco Demonstration. May 3, 2007

by Yayasan Tanah Merdeka

Ibu Yuliana at a hunger strike against Inco in Sulawesi

Ibu Yuliana at a hunger strike against Inco in Sulawesi. Karonsi’e Dongi plant gardens in a bid to survive on traditional land (now abandoned by Vale Inco). PHOTO: Jaringan Advokasi Tambang/Mining Advocacy Network (JATAM).

Werima Mananta, Karonsi’e Dongi community leader in 2006

"The Karonsi’e Dongi people have become an audience to our own extinction”. Werima Mananta, Karonsi’e Dongi community leader in 2006. Here, the community leader is leading a demonstration at Inco’s regional office in Makassar in 2005. From