Alliance Meeting in the Sierra

Alliance Meeting in the Sierra

11 July 2019


There were four steps to the Trust’s presence at this consultation.  

Step 1 was the visit by three Trustees to the Organisación Gonawindua Tayrona (OGT), the Kogis’ administrative organisation, in April 2018.  Its primary object was to re-define the Trust’s brief and that was agreed as being primarily to assist in projecting the Kogi vision of how to protect the Sierra and the world.  “The Kogi have to make the spiritual world more visible. It’s still here in the living body of the people of the Sierra but the Younger Brother has lost his connection to it.”  The Kogi said they were like warriors fighting for understanding of the world.  Everything – fish, plants, animals have their place. The Younger brother notices this but does not see or respect this order, and even less does he respect the people themselves.  Time is running out. The Sierra Nevada needs to be kept sacred. The Kogi need to defend themselves. They also need to think about how to make people listen, they need to create a ’bridge’ to meet and talk together about these things.”

Shortly afterwards Colombia held a general election and President Santos left office.  His final act, on 6 August 2018, was to pass into law Decree 1500 of the Ministry of the Interior, which formally recognised the Black Line, partly traced in the film Aluna, as the boundary of the Sierra Nevada, an integrated cultural, environmental and spiritually territory in the cosmovision of its indigenous people to be protected in law.

Step 2 was for the Trust to support the cross-diagnosis in the Drôme in September 2018, organised by Tchendukua, at which Mamas Shibulata, Mama Bernardo and Saga Narcissa produced a landscape analysis to compare with simultaneous analyses by academic experts to show quite clearly that the Kogis’ knowledge is complementary to, and constructed differently from, our own.  This was a very successful enterprise.

By the end of the year it was evident that the new administration was unenthusiastic about the Black Line decree and was handing out hundreds of mining permits in the Sierra: there are a thousand more apparently awaiting approval.  At the same time there has been a major uptick in violence with literally hundreds of assassinations of community leaders and human rights activists, as well as FARC members who disarmed under the peace treaty.

In March 2019 the cabildos of the four peoples of the Sierra met as the Territorial Council of Cabildos (CTC) and resolved with the approval of the Mamas that their political fragmentation must be overcome and they must work in common and each should convene a meeting of the NGOs and other entities supporting them to protect the Heart of the World., to achieve a unified strategy among each foundation “to achieve goals defined by the Kogui people in conjunction with their authorities”.

Step 3 was a visit from the OGT’s cabildo Santos to the UK under the auspices of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), and the Tairona Heritage Trust held a very hurriedly arranged breakfast with him on 13th April.  At this meeting he stressed the urgent need for an assembly of the NGOs engaged with the OGT, as required by the CTC, to meet in the Sierra and fashion an alliance to carry through the defence and promotion of the Sierra and the cosmovision of its indigenous people as a matter of urgency,  The Trust agreed to cover OGT’s costs for such a meeting, the hope being to include delegates from ourselves, Tchendukua and the ACT.   The budget was agreed; the date would be in June.

Th Trust believes that it is important to seek to establish a system that grows out of the cross-diagnosis experience. bringing Kogi and academic knowledge together in a properly recognised systematised transdisciplinary process to manage the environment.  This would give larger prominence and recognition to indigenous knowledge and draw international attention to the Sierra.  At this fortuitous moment came

Step 4, the “Building Resilience in Defense of Global Environments and Societies” (BRIDGES) initiative of UNESCO, intended to build a global coalition for sustainability drawing on academic and non-academic forms of expertise.  Patrick Degeorges, who had helped arrange the academic scientific work of the cross-diagnosis, had been at the first workshop of this new project in Portugal in March and invited me to the second, on 11-12 June in Paris.   At this meeting I agreed to take the Kogi an invitation to work with as-yet-undefined academic partners on an as-yet-undefined pilot project to show how their different forms of knowledge and ways of working could be successfully integrated in a process that would serve to restore rather than destroy nature and to see their knowledge and the problems of the Sierra (which are global problems) given prominence.

Eight days later, flying from London on June 20 to meet the Mamas, the news was most alarming.  The meeting had been called to take place on their new land in Dibulla, on the coast about two hours drive east of Santa Marta.  The huge drug cartel that has formed on the resurrected combined corpses of the old ones is literally fighting for survival, its leadership reported to be taken out in a careful and brutal government operation three days before.  Its heartland is the north face of the Sierra and its hub is possibly Dibulla.  The paramilitaries issued a proclamation that they were taking control of the Sierra, with some 70 experienced fighters clearing the way for an occupying army of 600 to sweep away the cartel.  All businesses along the Troncal, the coast road through Dibulla, must remain closed and all houses fly a white flag and a Colombian flag.  All traffic must stop, all tourist enterprises must close along with everything else.  By the time we boarded, local news had been showing an empty highway for two days, with an ineffectual police presence, and reporting that the population was terrified.  National Colombian press and TV did not report this.  I had been receiving messages from Tchendukua advising that they would be staying away, and just before boarding I got a call saying that someone in Mingeo, on the Troncal close to Dibulla, had been shot for defying this “armed strike”.  I was also told that Cabildo Santos had expressed confidence that we were safe, this would quickly calm down and the meeting was on.  I was accompanied by Felicity Nock, who was stoic and very quiet.

Just before boarding Simon Crabb joined us.  I had first met him in 2010 when making a promotional film for Peace Brigades International; he was then working in Colombia as one of the remarkably brave volunteers who accompany “human rights defenders” to deter possible assassins by making sure there is an evident international interest in their fates.  He has been volunteering to give Colombian human rights issues an international voice ever since, now as a qualified member of the Scottish Bar.  We had met again very briefly when I was speaking in Glasgow earlier this year.  He now has years of experience of the Colombian legal system and had offered to help gather national and international  legal pressure for defence of the Sierra.  He is seriously dedicated to work on such issues in the country on a pro-bono basis.  This is great good luck.

In Bogota, Felicity and I went straight onto a flight to Santa Marta, arriving in time to go to breakfast with Margarita Villfaña for a briefing.  We were joined by the other members of our party: Falk, who is now a Trustee, and Patrick Degeorges.  Margarita had at one time run the OGT office; she is now an Arhouaco politician and ran unsuccessfully at the last election for the position of Mayor of Santa Marta.  She updated us on the current state of indigenous politics and reflected that the oGT is in such a difficult situation that it may well not survi9ve very long.  We then went to the OGT office, expecting to see Santos, but he was not in town.  We were met instead by Mauricio Blanco, who produced Santos’ agenda for the meeting.  It was titled Zhingonezhi, the word for survival through mutual co-operation, support and exchange, and this was to be the name of the alliance being forged.  It would be attended by us, the ACT, the University of Magdalena and by Juan Mayr, the photographer who had created the Fondación por la Sierra Nevada, then became Minister of the Interior and then Ambassador to Germany before retiring.  I also had a discussion with Peter Rawitscher and Arregoces  Conchacala about translating and publishing the Mamas’ astonishing book Shiwakala.  I was told that it had to be published in a context which associated it clearly with the Mamas, not as just another book.

We then travelled to Dibulla, and in the following days held a convocation at the site Taniweizhkaka which has been purchased and developed by ACT with the OGT.  It is a ritual site, and the meeting was held in the open. The Kogi slept in the nuhue and provided catering.   The site is accessible by a short boat crossing from Dibulla and a 10-minute walk along the surf line at the edge of what is left of the jungle.  Before the start I made an offering of a spondylus shell from the Pacific, which was given a special place on a small rock altar.  Later, everyone was asked to bring more such objects on future visits.

Each attendee had to make a presentation of its work (Tchendukua, according to the final resolution, “will have to submit its proposal in the same way”.  Proposals were then put forward and explained by each representative, to be considered and consulted on in aluna by the Mamas when we had finished.

On behalf of the Trust, I proposed

  1. A BRIDGES programme to generate a strategic alliance with UNESCO, which aims to exchange knowledge between scientists and Kogui authorities, to demonstrate the importance of the Kaggaba people in protecting and managing territory at the scientific level and at the level of ancestral knowledge, and to clarify the effects being brought about throughout their ancestral territory on a spiritual and material level and its consequences for both the territory and the world.  The importance of ancestral knowledge and sacred spaces in the protection of the Sierra Nevada and the conservation and recovery of nature, is indeed known internationally. Within the context advanced with UNESCO or other organisations, support will be sought to carry out a pilot study together with the Kogui people of the Reserve.

The result of the consultation was a statement that the Kogui people may invite UNESCO or its scientists to visit the Sierra within 2 months, to raise awareness of the importance of Kaggaba culture, and to discuss the issues with the Mamos to generate a dialogue of understanding and begin work.  Alan stated that UNESCO may not be able to visit the Mamas in the Sierra within two months because that leaves too little time, and BRIDGES is meeting in Sweden in October.  So Kogi-Wiwa-Arhuaco Reserve (RKMA) proposes that it must receive within two months UNESCO’s proposals on how these knowledge exchanges can be undertaken, in order to prepare ideas and take this proposal to UNESCO with Kogui accompaniment in October so that the discussion and work can be taken forward.

  1. That the Trust contribute to the legal process of the indigenous peoples’ defence of the ancestral territory of the SNSM, coordinating with lawyers recommended by Alan to strengthen the ancestral territory of the black line at the legal level.  They should, together with the four indigenous peoples,  seek to identify the most appropriate strategies for the legal protection of the mountains, such as to declare the ancestral territory of the Black Line to be itself a subject of law, or by some other style of legal protection of the ancestral territory that would support and complement the Black Line Decree.  This process must be carried out at the level of the CTC, promoted by the Kogui people.  It is recommended that this be carried out in the context of the Black Line Decree and in concert with the work of "Friends of the Sierra" to prevent mining, together with the network of lawyers and other disciplines that support this process.  It is also recommended that this work should engage with the Procurator’s Office.

The result of the consultation is that the legal process of support of indigenous peoples for the defence of the territory is approved, coordinating with jurists recommended by Alan to strengthen the ancestral territory of the black line at the legal level.

3.  Translation of information from Kaggaba into Spanish.   The Foundation should establish, in conjunction with the OGT, a mechanism for the translation of recordings of meetings between the Foundation and the OGT authorities, or other recordings agreed with the OGT.   The Foundation would establish a budget for this work.  The University of Magdalena representatives offered help with this work.

The result of the consultation is that this is agreed.  Translations must be checked by the Mamos and OGT to approve the topics that will be translated, with clarity about how they will be used, and always depositing a copy in the office files.

  1. Create an agreement between the OGT and the Tairona Trust for the English translation of the Book Shikuakala and its publication by a recognized international publishing house for the purpose of spreading the message of the Mamas. This work is to be carried out with the supervision and approval of the Kogui people, recognising that the book is their property and the Kogui people lead the process.

The result of the consultation is that translation of Shikuakala is approved from Spanish to English in coordination with the THT, and it is then to be published to achieve wide dissemination in English.  This must be done at all times in accordance with and approved by the team at the Kogi-Wiwa-Arhuaco Reserve (RKMA) Kogui people and the Mamos, A prior written agreement must be made between RKMA and Alan or the THT in order to begin and advance the work.

Projects will always be headed and owned by the Kogui RKMA organization.

So Zhingonezhi can be the basis of what is going to happen next. For full details of the resolutions of the meeting read more here.


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