• Indigenous peoples in Colombia

    Indigenous peoples in Colombia

    The indigenous population in Colombia is estimated at 1,500,000 inhabitants, or 3.4 per cent of the total population. 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.


Indigenous Peoples in Colombia

According to the 2018 Census, the Colombian Indigenous population numbers some 1,905,617 individuals who, in turn, belong to 115 different native peoples. Approximately 58.3% of this population lives in 717 collectively-owned resguardos (reserves). The same census counted 4,671,160 people (9.34% of the national total) who self-identify as black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal or Palenquero. Around 7.3% of this population lives in 178 collectively-owned territories, organised around Community Councils.

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.

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.

As a result of a resurgence in the internal armed conflict following the 2018 electoral success of President Iván Duque, who is opposed to the Peace Agreement, violence and the armed re- taking of many of the regions inhabited by these peoples intensi- fied during 2020. In this context, as stated by the Ombudsman’s Office, there is a conspicuous delay in implementing the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement and a clearly deteriorating humanitarian situation which, in 2020 alone, left 112 Indigenous people dead in different regions, not to mention the members of Afro-descendant communities, whose deaths are not fully differentiated in the records.

Mama Luz Dary Aranda Morales: “Don’t let this moment pass us by”


Colombia's new government faces enormous challenges, but the Indigenous movement must "not let the moment pass it by" to support it, says Mama Luz Dary Aranda Morales, governor of the cabildo of the Guambia Indigenous reservation and host of the “Weaving Unity” Indigenous Peoples’ Summit, where she participated on behalf of AISO (Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest) in the summit's board of directors.

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Leonor Zalabata Torres: “In Colombia, we wish to live in peace”


The leader of the Arhuaco people will be the first Indigenous woman to hold the post of Ambassador to the United Nations. She has previously been Human Rights Commissioner for the Tayrona Indigenous Confederation and a representative of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples of Colombia. She has received several international awards, including the “Anna Lindh” Human Rights Award (2007) and the “Antonio Nariño” Award from the French and German embassies (2019).

Photo: Leonardo Díaz Ramírez

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Indigenous Summit in Colombia: unity is built from the kitchen


The summit took place on July 27-30 and was attended by seven national Indigenous organizations and 8,000 participants. The event produced a document that will be submitted to the new government setting out a road map for the relationship between both parties. Ancestral thinking and dialogue as a basis for building unity were the cross-cutting themes of the different committees. Neither the President, Gustavo Petro, nor the Vice-President, Francia Márquez, kept their promise to attend the summit.

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In the construction of autonomy, education and peace

By Diana Mendoza for Debates Indígenas

Asdrúbal Plaza Calvo is a Yanacona teacher who has been involved with the Colombian Indigenous movement for 40 years. After being a teacher for several years, he went on to become a lawyer and later obtained a doctorate in political and social sciences. From the perspective of his long professional and activist career, he highlights the importance of supporting processes of recovery of ancestral knowledge in environmental matters with the Nasa Tewalas of Valle del Cauca.

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A new Government to Vivir sabroso in Colombia


The election of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez marks a milestone in Colombian history. The sudden entry of these new players on the political scene symbolizes a profound change in the ruling elite. However, it has been a long road, fraught with adversity, violence and the rampant increase in poverty, which now affects over half of the population. Ivan Duque’s government, wracked with corruption, coupled with violence against social leaders and repression of the popular protest, were the key factors that led to an unprecedented popular mobilization that secured the triumph of the Historical Pact coalition in the second round of elections.

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Vivir sabroso or to live well or joyfully in Colombia: an alternative to the collective trauma experienced by ethno-territorial peoples


The lengthy armed conflict has left most Colombians with psychological, physical and community scars. Faced with this traumatic reality, the philosophy of “vivir sabroso” offers Colombians a new vision of life for their country. This sentipensar or thinking-feeling of Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples is helping to reshape the narrative of how we imagine the nation.

Bahía Málaga. Photo: Albeiro Palma for Colectivo de Trabajo Jenzera

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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Indigenous World

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