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Awá Indians, forgotten by the conflict

According to the Awá Community Ethnic Protection Plan between 2005 and 2012, “82 Awá community members had been victims of anti-personnel mines, of which 16 were injured, 54 lost their lives and there are no records of 11 of them in the databases after the incident”.

With close to 25,000 members in the Colombian side and 12,000 on the Ecuadorian side, this community has also been a victim of multiple armed conflicts during the nineteenth century in Colombia.

The impact is due to anti-personnel mines, forced recruiting, displacement and assassination of social leaders, among others that continue to go uninvestigated; as accessing the so-called “routes of comprehensive attention” provided by local and national authorities is something which is hardly effective.

This community along with the Eperara Siapidara and other indigenous communities and other Negro communities converge to the municipality of Tumaco, on the southeastern coast of Colombia and where coca plantations are part of the landscape with abundant clandestine coca processing laboratories.

Although hunting was their main activity for centuries, the unfavorable conditions of the environment compelled them to resort to agriculture, fishing, and raising of domestic animals, along with corn, considered as their main agricultural product and with other crops such as yuca, beans, sugarcane, and plantains; while on lands not apt for farming they harvest comestible products, medicinal plants, and wood. Alluvial gold mining is also a complementary task in their economy.

The Comprehensive Action Against Anti-personnel Mines Program established that between 2005 and January of 2012 in the Province of Nariño, 592 people had fallen victim to anti-personnel mines, which in percentage terms means that of the total indigenous community, 13.5% were Awá of the Indian Reserve of Ricaurte.

However, according to what is established in a report issued back in 2017 by the offices of the Inspector General, the Comptroller, and the Public Defender, after five years of implementing regulations directed to correcting the situation, executing the administrative indemnifications for victims has been very low.

Valid dialogue

The indigenous population has tried to create processes according to their own modes of understanding the government, justice, and health, with the purpose that the system designed by different governmental institutions adapts more to their identity, besides safeguarding their cultural and territorial autonomy.

For this reason, the research carried out as a doctoral thesis by UNal Department of Anthropology Professor Angélica Franco Gamboa helped as an input document for the Office of the Inspector General during the processes of open witness statements which took place between FARC and the Awá community last November, so they could maximize the dialogue process with the indigenous authorities.

“This study was used as empirical evidence for the delegation of the Office of the Inspector General with the purpose of legally sustaining the damage from the perspective of the indigenous community,” said Franco.

The researcher carried out her project stemming from a 4-year ethnographic research project which included observation techniques and work with public workers, Awá community victims, delegates of the Colombian Ministry of Health and university students, and developing a participative action research method, whose first stage is still in progress.

Second-hand citizens

Due to a phenomenon Anthropologist call “imperfect communications” and that Franco identified during her fieldwork, although the Indians and public officers think they speak the same language and they mutually understand each other, it is difficult to get to consensuses, as while one says one thing, the other interprets another and vice versa.

“As until now there has not been any census over the conditions of the indigenous population, it is impossible to have figures to certify this issue, although it is a collective situation which is evident in children, adults and the elderly” she added.

Consejo Editorial