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Fellows with the Tutu Kampu community and local chief Same in Wayana territory, Suriname.

Fellows with the Tutu Kampu community and local chief Same in Wayana territory, Suriname. Photo by Martin Kingman

November 17, 2023

Emergent Indigenous Leaders Share Aspirations at the Leadership Fellows Program in the Amazon

Participants from Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, and Suriname have come together to enhance leadership development and succession in their communities.

Emerging Indigenous leaders from the Amazon region have come together as the second cohort of Nia Tero's Leadership Fellows Program in Amazonia for 2023.

They come from different parts of the Amazon and nurture their own Indigenous traditions, knowledge, and lifeways. But they are all bound together by the aspiration for a better future for their communities, the ecosystems they inhabit, and Mother Earth.

The primary objective of Nia Tero's twelve-month program is to enhance leadership development and succession, as well as uplift ancestral knowledge and traditional forms of governance. The program aims at reinforcing Indigenous guardianship by having fellows connect with their local leadership.

This year's cohort includes 1 Wayana and 1 Tiriyo fellow from Brazil, 4 Achuar fellows from Ecuador, 1 Arecuna and 3 Patamona fellows from Guyana, and 4 Wayana fellows from Suriname. They recently completed their initial six-month training period, which involved three learning sessions in key territories of the Amazon region.

Grounded in Indigenous teaching methods, the fellowship aims to empower new Indigenous generations to assume essential roles within their territories, rooted in ancestral knowledge passed down through their communities.

The program has been thoughtfully structured to address the needs of both the fellows and their communities, promoting the preservation of Indigenous culture and spirituality, while also facilitating meaningful intergenerational and intercultural exchanges.

Indigenous leaders for the present and future

In 2023, three training sessions took place, the first one in Achuar territory, Ecuador (9-13 March), the second one in Macushi territory, Guyana (29 June-2 July), and the third one in Wayana territory, Suriname (29 September - 6 October 2023).

“I came to Ecuador to participate in this training, to learn more about protecting our land, territories, the forest, and different kinds of leadership because I am interested in what it is to be a leader,” said Hellerie Pelenapin (Wayana people) from Suriname during the first training session. “When you are a leader, you need to go back to your community and its dreams and hopes. Based on that, I can make decisions together with the community.”

The discussions revolved around several pivotal topics concerning Indigenous guardianship in the present and future. The fellows collectively expressed their concerns regarding the climate crisis and reflected on the significance of Indigenous governance, knowledge, and practices in promoting self-determination while safeguarding the environment. They also envisioned a brighter future for their territories that aligns with their aspirations.

"The program is very helpful in delivering knowledge to young leaders. This way, we get to understand the different types of leadership and learn from each other by exchanging knowledge,” said fellow Kemal Robinson, from the Patamona People in Guyana. “It has also opened up to ways in which we can develop our territories while keeping our customs and traditions alive as a people.”

With the first semester completed, it is now time for the fellows to utilize the wealth of knowledge they have exchanged so far and apply it to the next phase of the initiative, which is focused on project implementation.

By crafting projects, fellows find innovative solutions together with communities amidst the range of crises that impact Indigenous Peoples, such as language and culture loss and extractive industries in their territories. Nia Tero provides fellows with guidance on project design and a grant to fund project implementation.

"We encourage fellows to coordinate with their community leaders and figure out how they can support. By working on these projects, they already start leading and addressing the concerns of their territories”, said Joel Cerda, Andes Amazon Lead and Leadership Fellows Program Coordinator. “The fellows come full of ideas and start dreaming of what their territories can become in the future and what is their role in supporting those processes."

The Leadership Fellows Program is a hybrid leadership training established in 2019 to strengthen emergent leaders from Nia Tero’s trust-based partnerships. It is organized and run by Nia Tero, with training sessions conceived and facilitated by LifeMosaic.

Nia Tero works with Indigenous peoples and local communities that share a collective territory and have a vision for the future that maintains living connections to place and culture while sustaining inter-generational anchoring in remarkable ecosystems.