Requesting Land for their Culture

a group of indigenous people stand together, smiling.

With USAID support, 7 indigenous Pijao communities in Tolima have applied with the government for communal landholdings to establish indigenous reserves.

The territory of their dreams

The Los Tambillos farm, located in the mountains of Southern Tolima, could become a reservation or a “dream territory” for a Pijao indigenous community in the municipality of Chaparral. People say that this 200 plus hectare farm was once the land of a group of Pijao ancestors called Los Tambillos.

Jose María Leal stands smiling
Jose María Leal is the ancestral guide of his community and he has played an important role throughout the process of identifying, negotiating, and applying for the role of his ancestors.

Today, the indigenous council of this community, called Ivanazka Lemanyá de Calarma, has presented the Los Tambillos farm to the Colombian government as an option to establish their reservation.

“We longed to have this land because we are focused on recovering ancestral knowledge, ancestral medicine, and medicinal plants. We want to recover all the species that are in this area to take care of them, preserve them and multiply them.”

– Jose María Leal, ancestral guide of this community.

a group of indigenous people stand performing a ceremonyWith the recent implementation of the Rural Property and Land Administration Plan (POSPR) in Chaparral, the Ivanazka Lemanyá de Calarma community is one of the seven Pijao indigenous groups who are submitting applications to the government to establish reservations. In total, the seven applications encompass 16 parcels covering 1,800 hectares.

POSPRs are an ongoing government strategy to untangle land use and administration issues and comply with the 2016 Peace Accords. The Land for Prosperity Activity, USAID’s biggest land tenure programming, is supporting these schemes to update the rural cadaster, formalize property and strengthen land administration in Colombia.

During the information collection process of the POSPR, the government now requires technical land experts to include indigenous communities with the goal of preserving their identities and protecting their land rights.

Ancestral Guides: Land Protectors

two indigenous men stand side by sideBefore working on the applications of the seven reservations, Land for Prosperity carried out Free, Prior, and Informed Consent sessions with 11 communities that represent more than 2,500 people. After giving their consent, each community elected an Ancestral Guide to act as a point of contact for all communication and harmonization between the communities and the team implementing the POSPR, which is backed by Colombia’s National Land Agency (ANT).

The network of Pijao ancestral guides is made up of four women and seven men, including José María Leal. One of the most important responsibilities of the ancestral guides is identifying possible parcels that could be used to request communal land.

The 16 parcels which were identified as ideal to establish indigenous reservations are all privately owned. The ancestral guides then coordinated their possible purchase with the owners.

a group of four men observing a parcel of land
With support from the Land for Prosperity Activity, the ancestral guides have accompanied the land formalization teams to carry out almost 700 visits to dozens of parcels and to negotiate with their owners

Some of the factors that they take into account when choosing the parcels are: their proximity to the community, the presence of water sources, the productivity of the land for agriculture, the presence of sacred sites, and the size of the parcel to build their communal and ritual spaces.

“As an ancestral guide I’ve had the opportunity to connect with other guides from other communities of the municipality to share our experiences. It is very gratifying to guarantee the security and protection of our land and to share knowledge with the community.”

– Marco Fidel Cuadro Vargas, governor and ancestral guide of the Matora de Maito indigenous community.

Ancestral guides are responsible for reaffirming and protecting the power and worldview of their communities and play a key role in guaranteeing that the protocols of their territory are respected.

A large group of people stand, smiling, next to a sign that reads "Programa Nuestra Tierra Próspera" An Opportunity for Indigenous Communities

As part of the implementation of the POSPRs, USAID has worked with 45 indigenous communities and 15 Afro-Colombian groups from six municipalities (Tumaco, Santander de Quilichao, El Carmen de Bolívar, Ataco, Chaparral and Puerto Lleras) to collect information and advance the necessary procedures to request collective land from the ANT.

“I see a great opportunity to make progress on the long-term objective of establishing the Pijao reservations in the municipality of Chaparral.”

– Andrés Mauricio Méndez, member of the Amoyá la Virginia indigenous community in Chaparral.

Cross-posted from USAID Exposure


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