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Ongkili: “I am proud to be a native.”

KOTA MARUDU Jan 18, 2019:

Datuk Seri Dr Maximus Ongkili thanked his native roots, stressing the life experience was what shaped the person he is today.

The Kadazan Dusun Cultural Association (KDCA) elected deputy president said like most natives his age who grew up in the interior of Sabah, there was no denial that given the rustic environment and poverty of households, they were always thankful to have decent food on the table.

“It was normal to be fed regularly of tapioca, frogs, grasshoppers, bosing (squirrel), and other edible wildlife. Those were, then, the standard diet of the natives,” he said.

Yet, despite the scarcity, countless natives went to universities across the world, with many holding respectable posts today, some as Chief Justice, High Court judges, medical specialists, petroleum engineers,  architects, accountants and plenty more.

“Some of them are in Hong Kong, Dubai, Australia, United Kingdom, America, and Africa, to mention some, practising their respective skills and professions.

He noted that many natives went to top Commonwealth and Ivy League universities worldwide, adding: “And when we walked to the convocation stage to receive our professional degree scrolls, Masters and PhDs, after competing among the best in those countries, we whispered to our hearts and to spirits of our tribal parents at home - am proud to be a native.”

“And I, personally, do not see anything wrong with the description "natives". I believe most of us do not feel insinuated nor malu (ashamed) when other communities refer to us as descendents of headhunters, or that our parents used to wear "cawat" (loincloth),” said Ongkili.

As such, he noted that there is nothing culturally or intellectually wrong with the term "natives" to describe the tribal people of Sabah or Sarawak.

“We are proud to call ourselves natives of Malaysia. We have always been referred as natives,” Ongkili said, today, in response to Chief Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum’s proposal to replace the term ‘natives’ with ‘indigenous people’ as part of an effort to change public perception of the community.

Malanjum said the term ‘native’ gave a negative connotation as most people still beams the community as outdated and undeveloped.

“It is part of history that our native communities went through as process of developments, just like many other communities. In fact, all communities globally went through that phase in their stages of development, including the European communities,” Ongkili said.

He said that the issue is not just a matter of nomenclature or need to align to international definition such as the generic term "indigenous" in the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNdrip).

“In the context of Sabah and Sarawak, the word "natives" carries with it special rights and privileges for the tribal groups as citizens of the new Federation of Malaysia,” Ongkili said after chairing the KDCA Coordinating Meeting in Matunggong, here, today.

Specifically, he further added that the natives in East Malaysia were specifically singled out and awarded unique rights and privileges at the formation of the Malaysian Federation in 1963 (MA63).

Ongkili noted that the word "natives" run through the chapters and pages of the Cobbold and Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) Reports, as well as the MA63 and the First Version of the Malaysian Constitution in 1963.

“Hence, while I fully support the proposal by the Chief Justice to align nomenclature or description of tribal groups to international terminology for reasons of conformity and academic research, we must be careful not to interfere or downgrade in the original rights and legal meanings assigned to Natives of Sabah and Sarawak in the Malaysian Federation.

“As a KDCA leader, let's value our origin and be proud that we are original Sabahans,” he said.

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