Indigenous communities’ livelihood in Colombia is threatened as they are struggling to keep their ancestral territory. The Arhuaco peoples have organised themselves and are making a last stand to prevent more mining concessions in their territory and create sustainable development.
Indigenous peoples in Colombia
The indigenous population in Colombia is estimated at 1,500,000 inhabitants. Along with many campesinos and Afro-Colombian, many indigenous peoples in the country continue to struggle with forced displacement and landlessness as a result of the long-term armed conflict in Colombia.
The Government of Colombia adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. The Political Constitution of 1991 recognised the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169.
At the national level, indigenous peoples are represented by two main organizations: the "Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia" (ONIC) and "Autoridades Indígenas de Colombia" (AICO).
President Santos signed a decree in 2014 that created a special regime to put into operation the administration of indigenous peoples' own systems in their territories until Congress issues the Organic Law of Territorial Management that will define the relations and coordination between the Indigenous Territorial Entities and the Municipalities and Departments.
Indigenous peoples in Colombia
According to official data, indigenous peoples’ population in Colombia is currently estimated at 1,500,000 people, which represents the 3.4% of the national population.
According to the indigenous population register in 2005, 796,916 inhabited reserves (57.2 % of the indigenous population). On a bigger picture, figures show that 78.6% of the indigenous population is concentrated in rural zones and 21.4% in urban zones. Growth in the indigenous population in recent years is notable since in the year 1993 the indigenous population represented a mere 1.6% of the national total.
There are 65 Amerindian languages spoken in the country. Of this 65, 5 have no capacity for revitalization and another 19 are in serious danger of disappearing.
Main challenges for Colombia’s indigenous peoples
Data from the Victims Unit show that 192,638 indigenous people and 794,703 Afro-Colombians were affected by the war experienced in recent years. The guerrilla made life impossible for several indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians, and massacres such as that of the Awá in Nariño and Afro-Colombians in Bojayá, mined collective territories, communities stripped of their territories and young people and children recruited are some examples of the FARC's violent acts carried out against ethnic peoples.
Almost a third of the national territory is categorised as indigenous reserves, and most of them have to face serious environmental conflicts and land grabbing due to extractive activities in the zone.
The Colombian indigenous movement recommends voting yes to end 52 years of a civil war that has cost more than 250.000 lives and displaced around 6,5 million people out of a 49 million population.
IWGIA fully supports the press release published by the Indigenous Peoples Major Group that strongly condemns the persistent and gross human rights violations committed in Colombia and express solidarity with the indigenous peoples in the country.
The largest indigenous population in Colombia, the Wayúu, are starving and thirsty because the sole water source in the region, the Ranchería River, has been privatised and dammed. Instead of sustaining the Wayuú, it now serves the agricultural industry and one of the world’s largest coalmines.
The situation of the Wayuú was reported worldwide thanks to the documentary, El rio que nos robaron (The stolen river), made by Colombian journalist Gonzalo Guillén. The film illustrates the harrowing living conditions that currently plague the Wayúu, and will be used as evidence when their situation is discussed in the Organization of American States (OAS).