On March 18, 2008, three Indigenous Elders and Spiritual Leaders from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta took part in a presentation at the Poder forum in Miami, Florida, to discuss their land reclamation and restoration efforts.
Home to some 50,000 indigenous people from four different ethnic groups – the Kogi, Wiwa, Arhuaco and Kakuamo, all descendants of the Tayronas – the Sierra Nevada is the the world’s tallest coastal mountain range and one of the world’s most unique ecosystems.
The People say it is “the heart of the world,” a sacred place that forms and unites the origin of life with the present day, a place that is vital for the planet and which must protected. It is tradition for them to act as guardians, carefully monitoring and responding to everything that happens there.
Over the past century, however, their traditional role, and the mountain itself, has been seriously degraded by colonization. As described on the website of the Gonawindua Tayrona Organization, the Peoples’ only representative body,
[…] peasants came here fleeing the different civil wars which plagued the country. In the 1970s and 1980s, the cultivation of marijuana for export and later illicit coca attracted the attention of a greater number of colonists, who formed a peasant belt around the lower and middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada, which today is estimated to amount to 210,000 persons. The introduction of the practice of indiscriminate felling and burning of the rainforest, the formation of grazing ground for cattle, the consolidation of a belt of coffee farms, the constant extraction of hardwood, and the expansion of illicit coca crops have destroyed the majority of the forests along with the richness and variety of fauna and flora. Actually, only 12% of the 21,000 square kilometers of the Sierra Nevada is intact primary forest.
This immense deforestation has caused erosion of the soil and the consequent sedimentation of the rivers’ watersheds, and the disappearance of numerous species of plants and animals, many of them unique in the world. Worse still is the loss of Sacred Sites which play an essential role in the maintenance of the ecological equilibrium and of our culture. When Sacred Sites are transformed by the action of the Younger Brother, the knowledge of the Law of Origen and of the ceremonial practices that are contained in each Site are compromised.
Today the People are slowly reclaiming their lands, mainly through purchasing it acre by acre.
Introduced by Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and following a short video that describes their culture, history, and struggles, the Elders spoke for approximately twenty minutes.
Note: the introduction is in English, but the Elders only spoke in Spanish, and there are no subtitles available. However, there is an article you can read, A message from the heart of the world, which will give a clear idea of what they talked about.
Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.