Compiling knowledge for the strengthening of the Awá people

Compiling knowledge for the strengthening of the Awá people

Colombia - 04 April, 2013

After a successful consultation process with the organisations that comprise the Great Awá family, Tropenbos International (TBI) Colombia provided the basis for a historical survey strategy and the strengthening of their traditional knowledge.

One of the indigenous group that has been most affected by the armed conflict in Colombia is the Awá group. The expansion of the agricultural frontier, mining, violence by illegal armed groups and forced displacement have threatened their territories for many years creating a serious humanitarian crisis. This situation is aggravated by the lack of institutional presence and limited social investment in the area by the state institutions. As a response, the Constitutional Court issued the decree 004 of 2009, in which the Ministry of the Interior is committed with an Ethnic Safeguard Plan which calls for "the prevention, protection, care, organizational and socio-cultural strengthening, integral reparation" of the Awa people and other groups in similar situations. Among the actions that respond to this decree is the project “Indigenous Memory in the armed conflict” carried out by the Intangible Heritage Group of the Ministry of Culture of Colombia. In the context of this initiative, and with the accompaniment of TBI Colombia, the Awá communities are developing a historical survey and dialogues were knowledge is being exchanged as strategies to ensure the defence of their territory, their rights and their traditional knowledge.

awa2.jpgThe great Awá Family inhabits the departments of Nariño and Putumayo in Colombia and the provinces of Imbabura, Esmeraldas and El Carchi in Ecuador. It gathers three Colombian organisations - UNIPA (Unión del Pueblo Awá), Camawari (Cabildo Mayor Awá de Ricaurte) and ACIPAP (Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Pueblo Awá del Putumayo) — and an Ecuadorian - FCAE (Federación de Comunidades Indígenas Awá del Ecuador). All these organizations participated in the process of strengthening local governance through local research and dialogues that TBI Colombia proposed as the first step of the project Indigenous Memory in the armed conflict.

The key to the success of the consultation process lays not only in the interest the group showed in the concept and methodology of TBI Colombia, but also in the opportunities for dialogue generated with the participation of both local authorities and community members. In order to gather information for the Life Plan of the Great Awá Family, a programme was agreed for the collection and registration of local knowledge between elders and youth of the community. As a result of this generational exchange the first records on the origin stories, oral traditions, traditional medicine and local organisational process were obtained.

These advances with the Awá group contribute to the formulation of a national policy for the attention to indigenous people by the Intangible Heritage Group of the Ministry of Culture of Colombia. According to a communication from the institution: "The contributions of Tropenbos International in conceptual, methodological and administrative terms have been an important reference in the departments of Amazonas, Vaupés, Caquetá, Putumayo and Nariño, for the positioning of policy as a management tool both at the political and the community level. This has led to a progress in the development of proposals for formal training, participatory research and publications".

With this basis the Awá group will continue their historical survey and to register their traditional knowledge as a means to strengthen the local process and to gain more elements for the defence of their territories.