The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta rises abruptly from the Caribbean coast of Colombia. It is the world’s highest coastal mountain range, independent and isolated from the Andes. It is also a region of tremendous historical, cultural, biological and economic importance for Colombia.
Due to its size, approximately 17,000 km2, altitudinal variations and tropical position, the Sierra Nevada possesses some of the world’s most diversified flora and fauna, including many endemic species, and is of significant biological and hydrological importance. Its 35 river basins provide fresh water for some 1.5 million people living in the surrounding areas, and for agriculture and industry.
It is a sacred region for the 50,000 indigenous people from four main ethnic groups – Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuaco and Kankuamo – descendants of the Tayrona,
We still inhabit the region and practice traditions that date back to pre-colonial times, and our ancestral territory is delimited by a series of interconnected points (sacred sites) in the lower parts of the mountain range and between the sea and the snow-capped peaks. For our people, Cerro Gonawindua is the center of the universe and the mountain’s health controls the health of the entire planet. Our entire social organization and spiritual and cultural foundation are based on sacred practices carried out throughout these traditional lands. We believe that the Sierra Nevada is the “Heart of the World.”
Our Mamas, the guardians of our cultural knowledge, are renowned for their wisdom, foresight, and caring for the natural environment. We rely on their guidance for maintaining our traditions despite serious threats to our lands, way of life, culture and the natural resource base.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the indigenous people who live there have been affected since the arrival of the conquistadors and European thinking at the start of the 16th century. Despite their relative isolation, the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada were progressively stripped of much of their traditional lands and their culture, way of life and sacred sites were violated. They have had to contend with a succession of invasions and external pressures, colonizers, farmers and missionaries, and more recently from those involved in marijuana and coca cultivation, and non-indigenous settlements.
Deforestation, biodiversity loss, illegal crops and soil erosion threaten the future of the territory and the water resources on which large human settlements, agro-industries and tourism in areas around the Sierra Nevada are dependent. A water crisis is already evident.
Proposals for large infrastructure projects present a new threat to the ecosystems. The growing problem of armed conflict over territorial control creates other risks for the future survival of the indigenous people and their culture.
The indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada propose a strategy for the conservation of their traditional territory and the protection of forests and water resources, based on the recovery of lands within the legally recognized resguardos (collective indigenous territories) and the extension of resguardos to include sacred sites and zones that they consider a priority.
The aim is to protect 90,000 hectares of priority zones, within the existing and extended resguardos. The strategy includes the protection of traditional knowledge and practices of the indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada, recognizing their role in the conservation of ecosystems and biological diversity. It will strengthen traditional land use and management practices that preserve indigenous culture and knowledge, and the conservation of water resources for regional and global benefit.
Project implementation is in the hands of the four indigenous organizations, accompanied by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
A proposal presents the activities and a financial projection for the initial phase, to recover 18,920 hectares of ecological and cultural importance, the restoration of natural ecosystems in 60% of these areas, and the protection of at least 15 threatened sacred sites. Please contact Danillo Villafaña or Fiona Wilton for more information.
Progress to Date
In the priority areas for this program, the indigenous organizations coordinate with the relevant state institutions and are carrying out the preparatory work for land purchase, such as inventories and valuations. They manage their own databases with thematic and land-use maps.
Agreements have been reached with the national government, regional environmental authorities, INCODER and the Fondo Nacional de Regalías, for co-financing the legalization and extension of the resguardos. International environmental organizations have also given their support, such as The Nature Conservancy, Rotary Club International, AVINA.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has enabled two visits by Mamas and other indigenous leaders from the Sierra Nevada to the United States to promote the program, and a Group of Friends of the Sierra Nevada has been formed.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Korean Fund for Poverty Reduction are funding a program for food security among the indigenous people, strengthening traditional agricultural practices in recovered lands. The European Commission supports the traditional authorities to identify the health and education needs of the indigenous population, and to develop initiatives for the ecological restoration of recovered lands.
Private donations have enabled the program to start and for traditional lands to be purchased.
THE PEOPLE & THE LAND
by taironatrust organization
“why humans were made” the Koji Mamas explain