Eye on the Amazon

Reclaiming Ancestral Territory: The U'wa Return After Years of Displacement

Throughout Colombia's internal armed conflict, many rural communities have fled their homes because of threats, military operations, disputes over resources and other kinds of violence near their lands. In fact, Colombia has the largest population of internally displaced peoples after Sudan. Our Indigenous partners in Colombia, the U'wa, are no stranger to the traumas and upheaval of displacement.

The U'wa's ancestral territory covers at least 1.5 million acres of alpine tundra (páramo) and mountainous cloud forests in central-eastern Colombia. Yet their single current reservation covers just over 500,000 acres, due to displacement and lack of official legal recognition. The U'wa are working to change that, through legal means and community action.

In July, ten U'wa families packed up their belongings and returned to the hamlet known as Río Negro in the municipality of La Salina. The region had been a salt mining site – hence the name – and conflict over control of the salt mines led to the U'wa's displacement. These original ten families are paving the way for additional families to join them. If all goes according to plan, in the next six months another 50 or so families will resettle in the area. Amazon Watch is proudly supporting the return with funds for everyday necessities like soup pots, mosquito nets, and farming tools.

In returning to the area, the families are reclaiming a part of U'wa ancestral territory that the U'wa hope to incorporate into a new reservation, the Guanuwa Rauri-U'wa reservation. Territorial recovery, defense, and even legal recognition from the government are important for Indigenous communities in Colombia and around the globe, given the regular imposition of dirty energy projects, large-scale dams, roads, and other projects that run roughshod over Indigenous territories. As we well know, forests under the stewardship of Indigenous and traditional communities are the most well-protected and the best equipped to mitigate climate change.

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