Colombian amazon indigenous peoples dancing

Photo by: Lina Martinez

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January 1, 2021

Indigenous Peoples Take Action in the Colombian Amazon

By David Rothschild, Senior Partnership Lead, Nia Tero

The Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon—OPIAC— represents the Indigenous peoples of the Colombian Amazon, an area of more than 43 million hectares, larger than Greenland and with some of the most biologically and culturally rich tropical forest ecosystems on earth. Indigenous territories make up just under half of the Colombian Amazon, and are controlled and managed by 58 Indigenous peoples. OPIAC, created in 1995, champions the struggle for the recognition and defense of human and territorial rights, conservation of biodiversity, and autonomous self-development of the Indigenous peoples of the region.

Despite Colombia having one of the most progressive legal frameworks in Latin America with respect to Indigenous land rights and the environment, Indigenous peoples have suffered greatly through Colombia’s decades-long civil war. While peace negotiations have progressed some in recent years, bands of fighters still roam the countryside resulting in alarming violence against Indigenous peoples. In 2019 there were more than 300 murders of environmental defenders, mostly Indigenous, with higher numbers expected for 2020. But OPIAC has not sat idly by, establishing a network of Indigenous defenders closely linked to its grassroots base organizations, documenting and responding to attacks and threats against Indigenous peoples. OPIAC also plays a leadership role in the national Commission on Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, in close coordination with its NGO partner, Land is Life, OPIAC recently created an Indigenous-led rapid-response fund to put much needed resources in the hands of community members when under threat. In its first 3 months the fund was employed 15 times serving 20 different Indigenous peoples. Responses provided support that included legal assistance, medical psychological and spiritual assistance, relocation, security training, and community protection.

In addition to its vital work responding to attacks and threats on Indigenous peoples, OPIAC has programs on territorial and environmental defense, cultural revitalization, health and traditional medicine, human rights and peace, women and families, and education, including hosting the School of Political Education of the Colombian Amazon, which trains Indigenous youth and community members to defend their territories using a unique pedagogical model that reinforces Indigenous ways and means. Lastly, OPIAC has provided critical support to its base organizations and communities to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, which has hit Indigenous peoples of Colombia, and OPIAC itself, particularly hard. Nia Tero is proud to support OPIAC in their critical work to support Indigenous peoples of the Colombian Amazon.