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Abstract

In 2008, the Federal Government of Malaysian announced an initiative to build 20,000 megawatts of mega dams along a 320km corridor in Sarawak. Named the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), the scheme would create one of five regional development corridors throughout Malaysia, and was part of the government’s strategy to make the state of Sarawak ‘developed’ by 2020 through industrialization and renewable energy development (Recoda). Of the mega dams planned for construction by 2020, three have been completed, with construction for the others underway and the construction process frequently delayed by resistance from local indigenous communities. Indigenous tribe members who perceived their communities as being shortchanged and deceived by the government put up various forms of resistance to the projects. This paper looks into indigenous resistance against the Baram and Bakun mega dam projects as a means of exploring the broader nature of historical indigenous resistance to development projects in Sarawak, Malaysia. I argue that the indigenous people’s resistance to development projects in Sarawak, contrary to their portrayal as being anti-development and backwards, represents frustrated attempts to fight egregious forms of distribution, recognition and procedural environmental injustices. Indigenous tribes struggle amidst a challenging climate of political pressure to become ‘developed’ according to an authority-defined discourse of development, and under adverse terms of inclusion in the Malaysian government’s rural development strategy.