Art & Conservation: A Unique Meeting of Future Leaders of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

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Pedro Ruiz leads the painting exercise. Click to enlarge

From May 13-15, 2015 in Colombia, the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), the Organización Gonawindúa Tayrona (OGT) which represents the Kogi people, and renowned Colombian artist Pedro Ruiz collaborated on a workshop designed to teach children the value of their territory and of partnerships between communities. Through painting, lectures, and discussions, the youth gained new understanding that will further local conservation efforts—especially those related to the protection of the Jaba Tañiwashkaka sacred site.

Located in the municipality of Dibulla on the northern coast of Colombia, Jaba Tañiwashkaka is a sacred site on the Linea Negra—a network of ancestral sites that outlines the traditional territory of the region’s indigenous peoples. This sacred line runs along the Caribbean coast and through the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains.

Pedro Ruiz and Kogi reserve governor José de los Santos Sauna examine the children’s artwork. Click to enlarge

The children in attendance included indigenous youth from the Institución Educativa Rural Internado Indígena de Dumingueka (a school located in the region’s Santa Clara river basin) and schoolchildren from Dibulla’s Institución Educativa Nuestra Señora del Pilar.

Pedro Ruiz, who facilitated the painting activity, related the experience back to his installation “GOLD: Spirit and Nature of a Territory.” During this time, the students reflected on the cultural and natural riches within their local environment and their connection to one another through art.

Per workshop facilitator and ACT’s Kogi liaison, Juana Londoño:

[Ruiz] was a great source of inspiration and aspiration to the children.  He conveyed to the attendees that they and their thoughts are “gold” as they comprehend the sacredness of their lands; that the rivers that flow into the sea and the jaguar and iguana embody this gold; and that the camaraderie and solidarity that emerges in these contexts allows that gold to shine brighter than ever.

Workshop participants at the school. Click to enlarge

Children then painted their personal expression of the gold in themselves, their communities and the natural world.

The workshop also benefitted from the guidance of Kogi spiritual leaders Shibulata Zarabata and Luntana Vacuna. The pair articulated the Kogi worldview that everything in the Sierra Nevada is intertwined: human thoughts are connected to the health of the land; the lagoons and mangroves beside the sea are linked with the lakes of the paramo; and the children of Dibulla are tied to the indigenous children of Dumingueka (a nearby community).  Thus, they continued, agreements established without prejudice and by consensus promote environmental conservation, and a respect for nature directly contributes to true peace.  

A workshop participant with her artwork. Click to enlarge

A final outcome of the workshop was the students’ composition and signing of mutual agreements to honor and protect their natural environment, to respect one another, and to work to increase peace in their region. These inspired covenants are described lyrically by Juana Londoño:

Agreements, like seeds sown in fine weather.

Agreements, for a region that must grow through solidarity and peace.

To learn more about the Amazon Conservation Team, visit

To learn more about Pedro Ruiz, visit

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