Colombian Government Signs Decree Recognizing the Ancestral Territory of the Indigenous Communities of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

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Black Line, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

Black Line, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta

On August 6, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a decree that recognizes the ancestral territory of the indigenous communities of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (SNSM), as defined by the sacred sites of the Linea Negra (Black Line), a ring of sacred sites around the base of the SNSM that forms the boundary of the ancestral territory of the region’s four indigenous groups: Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankumano.

Notably, the decree recognizes this territory as an interconnected and living being whose various natural elements (water, forest, animals) now have rights protected under law.

The decree also strengthens the internal governance capacity of indigenous communities and permits the establishment of special land use zoning that follows traditional values. In addition, the decree defines guidelines for agreements regarding land tenure and development plans between indigenous communities, local governments, and other institutions to foster improved environmental planning and coordination.

For the Kogui, Arhuaco, Wiwa, and Kankumano, the sacred sites located in their ancestral territory, now recognized by this decree, are of paramount spiritual importance. From these sacred sites, they conduct traditional ceremonial activities they consider essential to the preservation of spiritual and ecological balance and the maintenance of their cultures.In 2012, ACT was first able to purchase essential portions of the lands constituting Jaba Tañiwashkaka, one of the most significant Linea Negra sacred sites located along the ocean, and with the help from the national government the land was returned to the Kogui in 2013; subsequent purchases led by ACT have fully consolidated the site.

Since that initial purchase, we have witnessed the phenomenal resurrection of an ecosystem. Since the Kogui took control of the land, they have cleared it of trash and established a small community of families to guard it. Wetlands and mangroves have been restored, the waters are slowly decontaminating, and wildlife is returning. The community has built two temples where people from related indigenous groups can come, in safety, to make offerings to the sea. This restoration inspired our partners and strengthened them in their quest to recover the entire Linea Negra.

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