Wednesday, May 31, 2017

URSP Student Tabatha Donley Researches the Struggles for West Papuan Merdeka from Indonesia

My name is Tabatha Donley and I am a senior majoring in Global Affairs, with a concentration in International Development and minors in Social Justice and Conflict Analysis/Resolution. With the support of OSCAR, I am studying the struggle for West Papuan merdeka (freedom) from its occupying force, Indonesia. I first learned about West Papua through a CULT 320 course, with my interest in the Melanesian region heightening after meeting GMU’s Visiting Scholar and West Papuan activist Herman Wainggai (huge thanks to Professor John Dale, my current mentor, for the introduction). Together, Mr. Wainggai and I coordinated several campus events where he shared his experience and perspective as a displaced Papuan. My interactions with Mr. Wainggai left me wanting to learn and contribute more towards the movement for Papuan Merdeka; thus, began my OSCAR research.

Drawing upon interviews with Mr. Wainggai, as well as anthropological and sociological literature, my study serves to highlight the importance of establishing localized human rights discourses within an indigenous sovereignty movement, thereby increasing understanding of how indigenous communities can best mobilize and achieve self-determination without compromising their collective cultures and identities. My research also explores indigenous leadership, burnout, and intellectual property rights (IPR) within the context of Papuan merdeka. Unlike STEM research, I spend no time in labs or with vast amounts of quantitative data. Instead, my days are spent in the library, analyzing scholarly journals, coding documents, interviewing Mr. Wainggai, or making connections between various global indigenous movements.

As a senior who plans to attend graduate school, this experience has been instrumental in gaining further insight into the world of scholarly research, both its challenges and rewards. Being mentored by Professor Dale has also expanded my understanding of human rights discourse, and guided me into new fields of research methodologies, theories, and movements.