Look into ‘native status’ of mixed-marriage children

Dona Drury-Wee

KUCHING: The Sarawak Eurasian Association (SEA) is urging the Sarawak government to help children of mixed marriages in ancestral land matters.

SEA president Datin Dona Drury-Wee said SEA supported the calls from multiple associations requesting state lawmakers to amend the Interpretation Act 2005, Chapter 61.

“Multiple associations have come forward, namely from the Dayak Chamber of Commerce and Industry to the Sino-Dayak Association asking for the Land and Survey, in particular, to enable the children of mixed marriages to inherit their ancestral land.

“With many of its members having fallen foul of either the National Registration Department (JPN) or Land and Survey’s increasingly exclusive rulings on native status, SEA supports these calls by requesting that lawmakers in the state government clarify the issue once and for all,” she said yesterday.

Referring to her own experience, Drury-Wee disclosed that she had been applying for native status for over 20 years.

“My mother is Iban and my father American. Though we live in Kuching, my mother and I both want my sons to know and appreciate their Iban culture. So, we maintain our links with her ancestral community in Bawang Assan, Sibu.

“Unfortunately, my mother is not able to pass her ancestral land to me or my siblings. This is not a recent issue as it is in fact a problem for many decades.

“I’ve been applying for native status for over 20 years since the late Datuk Seri Tra Zehnder was the head of Majlis Adat Istiadat Sarawak and have been denied despite a full longhouse wedding in 1985 and letters of support from community leaders detailing my connections.”

Drury-Wee pointed out that the issue of native land was one within the immediate control of the state government.

“We have one member with an Iban father and a Swiss/New Zealand mother who has returned to Sarawak with a wealth of knowledge specifically to set up a farm. Despite the fact that he is listed as Iban on his identity card, he is still unable to inherit his father’s ancestral land.

“A simple change to the Interpretation Act, which currently restricts the definition of native to ‘any admixture of these races WITH EACH OTHER’ would solve this issue and send a message to the various agencies about the Sarawak government’s intent.”

Drury-Wee stated that the restrictive interpretations of identity had meant many Eurasians and other mixed Sarawakians had to choose to identify with one parent over another.

“While this in some ways can help to preserve indigenous cultures, it can equally only serve to wipe out the marvellous and magical mixes that have characterised Sarawak throughout its history.

“Why can people not be members of more than one race? Their parents are and Sarawak is the ultimate melting pot of diversity.

“This land is the people’s identity and the identity is built on a community of different races, opinions and ideas which all come together under one Sarawak.”

She also said that the association represented a broad cross section of racial groups, bound together by familial ties, many between a native and non-native that go back to several generations.

“We are a diverse group, mixing Javanese, British, Malay, Chinese, Dayak, Orang Ulu, Indian, Australian, New Zealanders and Filipinos to name a few. But we are all Sarawakians, we are all Malaysians. 

“Yet, our members have multiple stories of issues with multiple government agencies from JPN to Land and Survey, namely stories of issues with scholarships, identity cards or citizenship recognition for their children born overseas.”