While protesters at Standing Rock and West Papua may seem worlds apart, they share a common bond from an indigenous struggle against a larger oppressor, explained West Papua’s independence leader Benny Wenda in a letter of solidarity and friendship on Thursday.
“On behalf of the people of West Papua we offer solidarity to our Indigenous brothers and sisters as we intimately understand the complicated struggles they are facing,” said Wenda via his website.
While Thursday marks “West Papuan Independence Day,” the Indigenous Melanesian people in West Papua are still subject to neo-colonial rule by Indonesia and have been struggling for independence for decades.
Wenda said that his independence movement was drawing parallels and inspiration from the ongoing protests in North Dakota and was “alarmed that their people, lands, and traditional ways of life have become threatened to the point of extinction.”
“As we witness militarized law enforcement agencies commit acts of violence against peaceful water protectors in the U.S., it reminds us of our own mistreatment at the hands of those intending to overpower and silence our voices,” he said.
Wenda, who is currently living in exile in the U.K., added that “the urgent situation at Standing Rock reminds us to advocate for the right of every Indigenous person to protect their culture and religion, tribal systems and natural resources.”
Around the world, supporters have joined into to celebrate “West Papuan Independence Day” through the hashtags #GlobalFlagRasing and #LetWestPapuaVote.
Because of a widespread media blackout by Indonesia, the independence movement gains little international coverage, but has increasingly taken to social media to raise awareness. Wenda and Melbourne producer Airileke Ingram have also released a track "Sorong Samarai," to coincide with the day.
On Dec. 1, 1961, Melanesian West Papuan first raised their Morning Star Flag, but were then annexed by Indonesia in 1969 in a controversial referendum after previously winning their independence from Dutch Colonialism in 1963.
In ongoing oppression, around half a million Melanesians are thought to have been killed by Indonesian authorities and face restrictions of movement and assembly, with many protesters being held as political prisoners.
Indigenous groups in Australia and New Zealand, have also expressed their support for West Papua and Standing Rock. A number of New Zealanders from the Maori community have started posting versions of their traditional haka war dance to social media as a show of solidarity to the North American protestors.
"When one group of relations is being hurt, (abused), being bullied, being ripped off, we all feel that, especially us as Maori, we are very much a leader to the indigenous people,” said Te Hamura Nikora to Radio New Zealand.
Nikora, a New Zealand media personality, helped to create the facebook page “Haka With Standing Rock.” Tens of thousands of people are now helped to spread the videos of the Haka dance which is well known as an intimidating opener to the country’s international rugby games.