The Páez people, also known as the Nasa, are an indigenous people in the department of Cauca, southwestern Colombia.
The term “páez” is the Spanish version of the word pats, “to the right [of the Cauca River]”. The system of encomienda established by the conquistadors during the colonization efforts undertaken upon the Americas in the 16th century created a Nasa labour force that rebelled against the Spanish domination and put up a fight of resistance that ultimately lead to an agreement with the Spanish Crown in the early 18th century. Through this agreement, the Nasa people got certain autonomy in their ‘resguardos’ (indigenous reservations) in exchange for their acceptance of colonial rule and Christianity. However, the few rights that they were allowed to exercise were reduced over time; and, as time passed, the reductions in freedoms and territory became more and more evident.
In recent decades, the Nasa have been caught up in the ongoing armed conflict between the Colombian army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and right-wing paramilitaries. In the 1980s some Nasa people briefly formed their own armed group, Quintin Lame, to fight back. However, when it became apparent that Quintin Lame was doing more harm than good, it was demobilised.
The Nasa then declared themselves ‘actively neutral’ and rejected all forms of violence; that neutrality–coupled with the Nasa’s fierce independence– attracted harassment, kidnappings, murders and massacres of entire communities. In 2001 The Nasa responded to this violence by organising the ‘Indigenous Guard’, a permanent, nonviolent, civil defence organisation. At present the Guard has about 6,000 active members charged with protecting communities by preventing the incursion of armed groups into the tribe’s territorial reserves.