North Cauca, Colombia, June 24, 2011: The first meeting of indigenous women in resistance for the survival and autonomy of their peoples concluded on Friday, after taking place at a shelter in Huellas Caloto in the Bodega Alta district in the Cauca department of Colombia. For four days, women and men from northern Cauca, joined with around 26 national and international organizations, discussed “weaving a memory with words,” and finished the event with a march to the town of Santander de Quilichao.
At the meeting, attendees discussed the need for autonomy with their food, and resistance from women. Seeds and traditional agricultural products were exchanged to reflect truth, justice, reparation and law for both indigenous women and a peace proposal. They also denounced and discussed the armed conflict that the country is living in.
In 1971, indigenous people from northern Cauca formed the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, which was made up of nine chapters. Currently there are 19 chapters. They fight for their land, food, education, work opportunities and to live in harmony with mother earth. Nelson Lemus Consejero de Paz, with the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN in Spanish initials), said that “the multinational corporations want to dispossess us of our land through war.”
The people have organized cooperatives, including a trout hatchery, yogurt business, crafts market, and more. They are nonviolent, but for many years they have lived with harassment from soldiers. On May 28, 2001, they decided to organize and create what they call the Indigenous Guard, or, Kiwe Thegnas in the Nasa Yuwe indigenous language. The three goals of the group are to “care for, protect, and defend the people,” said Don Germán Valencia and Luis Alberto Mensa, coordinators with the Guard. Members of the Guard always wear a hat, a brightly colored scarf around their neck and have a staff adorned with red and green ribbons that represent mother nature and the blood that has been shed in defense of the land. They say that they “respond to a community mandate and work based on assemblies, mingas, and other meetings.” They care for their people so that young people are not allowed to be forcefully recruited by the Colombian Army or guerrillas, and also to defend their land, environment and way of life from the multinationals. The Guard is made up of volunteers, with different forms of community organization, such as elders and governors. They've created a regional community congress with 19 authorities who are the governors, and a representative council of seven members is in charge of community projects relating to issues like water and territory.
With the framework of self-development of indigenous peoples and the recognition and effective application of their rights, indigenous organizations from Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru and Chiapas, Mexico also participated in the event in northern Cauca. They discussed oppression, paramilitary repression, mining, genetically-modified seeds, forced displacement, marginalization, and the criminalization of indigenous social moments by the bad governments. Domingo Hernández Ixcoy, who is from Guatemala, said that during the 36 years of war in his country from 1960-1996, under the scorched earth policy there were 100,000 disappeared, 624 disappeared villages, and more than 300,000 dead, of which 46 percent were of the Quiche ethnicity.
In 1996, the country's government signed peace agreements with Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity guerrillas that have been useless since there is still excessive repression, discrimination and exploitation. More than 310 areas have been targeted for mining exploitation. In 2005, community consultations about the projects began. To date, there have already been 57 consultations with more than one million people saying no to the mining.
The situations regarding the criminalization of nonviolent indigenous movements from Abya Yala is felt everywhere, Rosalba Velasco, an indigenous investigator from the ACIN's “thinking house,” said. “This meeting is the result of a year of work at this space here, and there are three pillars in the Nasa Yuwe peoples' kitchen, and this means mothers, fathers, and children. This is a meeting place for families to talk and advise one another, to talk about different subjects related to organizing, to making proposals that will allow the strengthening of a life plan, recognizing our women elders who have contributed to the construction of this organization. The women at this meeting say ‘We didn't have our sons and daughters for war.'”