“Now is the opportune moment to leave a historic legacy for our future generations, in the conservation of and care for our Mother Earth. For all the money that man might have, we can’t survive eating money if we don’t have water for humanity’s existence.”
U’wa letter to the white man
Taking direct action to defend their territory is a deadly serious proposition for Colombia’s indigenous peoples. Seared in the collective memory of the U’wa people are the drowning deaths of three U’wa children when they fled a violent police crackdown on anti-oil protests in 2000. As such, the current mobilization of the U’wa Indigenous Guard to stop tourists from entering the sacred snow-capped mountain peak of El Cocuy has grabbed national and international attention.
Zizuma is the U’wa name for the majestic mountain that lords over their ancestral territory, playing a unique and central role in their spiritual cosmovision. This is the resting place of their divine beings, the source of spiritual wisdom for their Werjaya (traditional authorities). The mountain is so sacred that it is not to be looked upon directly and only the Werjaya are authorized on rare occasion to climb its slopes in search of communication with the natural world.
As with many indigenous sacred sites, the mountain’s intrinsic beauty and energy has attracted others. Known as El Cocuy, this mountain has become a destination for tourists and alpine mountain climbers. The New York Times called it the “Secret Colombia Above The Clouds”. The El Cocuy National Park also overlaps significant sections of U’wa territory.
An incident in late February has brought this clash of worldviews to a head. A group of Colombian climbers summited and played a high-altitude game of soccer, as part of a charity fundraising campaign. The video was broadcast on Colombian media, provoking immediate protests from campesino communities who had previously expressed concerned about the protection of the glaciers.
From the north the U’wa sent members of their Indigenous Guard – unarmed men and women from across their reserve – to block entrances to the sierra nevada. The economic impacts are being felt in the region, with many Holy Week tourist reservations having been cancelled. Unfortunately, recent history shows that the Colombian government does not take seriously the concerns of indigenous and other grassroots communities until protests begin to negatively affect economic sectors.
A high-level meeting was held this past Sunday. So far, no agreements have been reached. The U’wa are understandably suspicious of any agreements since the government has yet to comply with 2014 accords it made following U’wa pipeline protests. To date, the mobilization of the U’wa Indigenous Guard continues, while fresh dialogues are being carried out. We can expect the issue will not resolve itself overnight, but the U’wa are models of patience and long memories.
Following are translations of two U’wa documents: the letter they delivered and read at Sunday’s meeting, and the public communiqué the issued thereafter.
This is the word of resistance. Read it. Share it. And support it!