Indigenous peoples in Colombia

The National Statistics Department puts Colombia’s indigenous population at 1,500,000 inhabitants or 3.4% of the national population. The Andean zone and Guajira are home to 80% of this population.

Regions such as Amazonía and Orinoquía, where demographic density is very low, are home to the most peoples (70) some of them on the verge of extinction.

65 different Amerindian languages are spoken in the country, with five of them classified as dying (no possibility of revival) and another 19 “in serious danger” of disappearing.

Territories

Almost a third of the national territory is made up of indigenous reserves, a large proportion of them in conflict with oil and mining companies, banana and oil palm plantations, loggers, livestock rearing and illicit crops.

The armed conflict has been the driving force behind the expropriation of the ethno-territorial peoples’ land and has resulted in their marginalisation and exclusion.

Over the 1990-2000 period, funds from drugs trafficking were used to grab more than five million hectares of the country’s agricultural land. 

Indigenous Organizsations

Nationally, the indigenous peoples are represented by two organisations: the National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia / ONIC) and the Indigenous Authorities of Colombia (Autoridades Indígenas de Colombia / AICO).

Regionally, the Amazonian peoples are represented by the Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (Organización de los Pueblos Indígenas de la Amazonía Colombiana / OPIAC).

Legislation

The 1991 Political Constitution recognised the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169 (now Law 21 of 1991). Colombia supported the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2009.

By means of Order 004 of 2009, the Constitutional Court required the state to protect the fundamental rights of 34 indigenous peoples at risk of disappearance because of the armed conflict, a situation it described as “an unconstitutional state of affairs”.

President Santos signed Decree 1953 of 7 October 2014 creating a special system to operationalise the administration of indigenous peoples’ own systems on their territories, until Congress can issue the Organic Law on Territorial Regulation.

This will set out the relationships and coordination between the Indigenous Territorial Bodies and the administrative areas of which they form a part (municipalities, departments). 

Yearly Update

Download the 2016 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Colombia to learn about major developments and events during 2015