The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) has established an Indigenous Fellowship Program in partnership with Colombia’s Universidad Externado to provide indigenous college students with the opportunity to better understand the functioning of international cooperation agencies, international conventions, and funding aimed at supporting the rights of indigenous communities. The awardees are presented with a variety of resources and opportunities, including participation at the sessions of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and are provided with long-term mentorship in capacities including English language skills, accounting, project design, project implementation, and reporting. As a concrete objective, they design a community-based project to be implemented upon their return to their community.
Formal Institution of the Program
In 2018, ACT signed a cooperative agreement with the Universidad Externado to collaborate in the creation of a scholarship program for indigenous students in their fourth year and eighth semester that qualify for internships with ACT and other potential partners such as the OAS. The two institutions agreed to jointly create the conditions so that each year, one or more students belonging to the university’s Multicultural Interactions Program can travel to Washington, DC to conduct this internship, with the objective of fulfilling a graduation requirement.
First Indigenous Fellows
The first program fellowship was awarded to Miguel Ángel Chaparro, an Arhuaco from Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Miguel engaged with both ACT and the OAS during his months in the U.S. He received English tutoring to help enable Miguel to graduate from Colombia’s Universidad del Externado with a Government and International Relations Degree; Miguel is the first indigenous student to do so. Miguel’s senior monograph, An Indigenous Person within the OAS and the Inter-American Human Rights System, details his experience with the OAS and ACT and the experience’s contribution to his understanding of the role of traditional knowledge within the land tenure realities of Colombia’s indigenous peoples and associated decision-making. Since returning to his community, Miguel has continued working with ACT to support the legalization of land claims of the Arhuaco people. Additionally, he has worked to establishment a medicinal and vegetable garden for Arhuaco elders to collect plants.
The 2018-2019 program fellow is Jefferson Alonso Chirimuscay of Colombia’s Misak people from the Guambia reserve of the department of Cauca. Jefferson is an archeology student in his seventh semester at the Universidad Externado. He seeks to expand his understanding of the teachings of Misak traditional knowledge-keepers and to acquire Western skills that can help his people strengthen their cultural identity in the face of change, especially with regard to communications. He commenced the Washington portion of his fellowship in April 2019.
As part of the agreement between the OAS General Secretariat and the Amazon Conservation Team in collaboration with the Universidad Externado de Colombia, in the spring of 2020, Shirley Jacanamijoy became the first intern of the OAS Internship Program belonging to an indigenous people.
Shirley is a sociology student at the Externado University of Colombia and is a member of the Inga and Kamëntsá peoples of the Sibundoy Valley.
As part of her internship, Shirley was instrumental in the preparation of the ‘Aprendiendo y Enseñando Sobre Nuestros Derechos’ OAS report (SPANISH), which aims to raise awareness within indigenous communities of the most important rights recognized in the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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