The Indigenous Peoples of Caquetá Put a Human Face on Politics

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A few days ago, we accompanied the Caquetá Departmental Indigenous Council (CODIC) during the signing of a new Comprehensive Indigenous Public Policy for the Colombian department (state) of Caquetá, which was developed with the government of Caquetá and the assistance of the Amazon Conservation Team Colombia. This policy will, for the first time, provide a platform for indigenous communities to have a say in the future of their department.

The policy promises to benefit more than 10,000 indigenous individuals of Caquetá. The associated dialogues and solutions will focus on issues including human rights, land use zoning and the environment, health and traditional medicine, education, and food sovereignty.

The seven communities that make up CODIC eagerly anticipate the implementation of the policy. We spoke with five council members who belong to the Inga, Uitoto, Nasa, Misak, and Embera-Katío groups. They described the current situation of their territories and their expectations from this initiative.

Flora Macas, of the Inga community. Photo: Camila Tovar

Per the Inga community member Flora Macas, the Inga community is being especially affected by the process of acculturation. Many elders and teachers of their community have been forced to move to other population centers in order to maintain their culture and prevent further destruction of their traditions. "The areas that have been most affected have been traditional indigenous medicine and autonomous education processes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their traditions," she explains.

To Macas, the new public policy is a right that the people themselves have earned that will help them advocate for their needs.  She says that "the government will have a platform to learn how to assist us and propose alternatives so as to eliminate the problems that have affected us."

Luis Carlos Ulcué, of the Nasa community. Photo: Camila Tovar

The Nasa people of Caquetá have been primarily affected by the insufficient space they have in their reserve. Luis Carlos Ulcué, a member of that community and a CODIC coordinator, says that the territorial issue has made their living conditions deplorable. "The reserve is small, and we are surrounded by settlers who work with many agricultural chemicals; nature is being destroyed, and trees and animals are killed every day."

This community expects the policy to help supplement the work carried out by indigenous leaders, who have been strengthened by training and workshops held with the support of Caquetá’s Universidad de la Amazonía (University of the Amazon) and the Amazon Conservation Team. "This is an opportunity to bring visibility to all the work we have done and to contribute to departmental development processes from the perspective of indigenous visions and traditions," says Ulcué.

Dixón Andoque, Uitoto of the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC). Photo: Camila Tovar

Dixón Andoque, a Uitoto who represents his community in CODIC, maintains that their population is primarily being affected by two categories of problems: the environmental, and the territorial. Deforestation increased by 17% in Caquetá during 2014, according to reports from Colombia’s Ministry of the Environment and Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM). "We care about our rivers and trees, and must train ourselves to take care of our resources and enforce their protection," says Andoque.

The territorial issue affecting the community is also reflected in the environmental realm, but has more impact on the urban populations. "For the indigenous people of the cities, the same laws do not apply as those in their own territory marked as a reserve. We hope this policy will help us bring attention to the administrative and legal difference existing between communities, and so assert ourselves as a united people," says Andoque.

Delfa Isama, of the Embera-Katió community. Photo: Camila Tovar

"The policy will help us to negotiate and obtain funding for our projects. We also will use it to identify problems in each community and seek the most appropriate and effective solutions. The most important thing will be to work to strengthen our cultural traditions and ensure that they continue from generation to generation," explains Delfa Isama of the Embera-Katío community, who oversees cultural issues in CODIC.

Per Isama, the issue that has most affected their community has been the state of the reserves. The battered roads and dwellings made of poor materials have prevented the Embera from achieving good living conditions. "The roads around my reserve, Chamí Pura, are full of holes and are almost impossible to pass. That's one of the things we need to start negotiating with the policy—the sound use of budgets for investment in housing," says Isama.

Manuel Jesús Tombé, indigenous governor of El Danubio, a village near Florencia, and CODIC representative. Photo: Camila Tovar

The Misak community lives in the village of El Danubio and in the municipality of Belén de los Andaquíes, and their biggest problem is education. Per Manuel Jesús Tombé, the governor of El Danubio, the schools are in very bad condition and many impediments exist to the community developing their own models of education.

"The indigenous communities don’t have the opportunity to legally train their traditional doctors or their specialized agriculturalists according to their needs," says Tombé. The Misak expect this policy to help the indigenous peoples of Caquetá unite and achieve balanced community development, such that they receive the same benefits and are taken into account equally as other citizens.

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