Former Head of Indian Affairs in Colombia, and a long-time activist for indigenous rights and the environment, Martín von Hildebrand founded Gaia Amazonas in 1990 to assist the indigenous peoples of the Colombian Amazon to safeguard and govern their territories sustainably, while conserving the region’s immense cultural and ecological diversity. The organization works at the grassroots level to promote processes for tribal autonomy and environmental governance, whilst shining a light on the value of traditional knowledge systems for contemporary conservation and sustainable development practices.
Over 20 years, Gaia Amazonas has focused on issues such as indigenous governance, territorial management, inter-cultural education, inter-cultural health, trans-boundary co-ordination, and institutional strengthening. Viewing indigenous rights and effective conservation of the Amazon region as intrinsically linked, the organization works to assist groups to reclaim ownership of their homelands by creating spaces for dialogue between indigenous authorities and the state, providing guidance on legal recognition of their rights, advising the government on legislative development, and advocating for indigenous participation in the development of programs that affect these groups directly.
In the areas where Gaia Amazonas is most active, 17 indigenous organizations – representing over 23,000 people – govern more than 13 million hectares of forest.
What they do
The work of Gaia Amazonas involves constructing the means for effective protection of the Amazon forest and the biological and cultural diversity that it harbors, through indigenous territories (resguardos) and protected areas, in coordination with the Office for National Natural Parks, and promoting the joint construction of environmental governance between indigenous people, government entities and civil society.
They work in the structuring and implementation of projects with indigenous inhabitants of the forest, which enable them to practice their rights, to govern and administrate their territories, to conserve the forest, their traditions and culture. These projects are funded partly by governments, organizations and individuals who are interested in protecting the environment, the conservation of biological and cultural diversity, and in carrying out policies for adaptation to climate change and to the environmental problems of the modern world.
To a large extent, the work involves protecting indigenous peoples’ rights. Indigenous people are not only the legitimate owners of their territory, duly recognized by the 1991 Constitution, but they have a cultural and traditional knowledge that is essential for the modern western world, which must find sustainable development paths. This achieves conservation objectives as well as the protection of human rights. In Gaia Amazonas they seek ways to recuperate these traditional and cultural values of the indigenous people, which are vital for conservation.
At the local level, they support the linking of Associations of Traditional Indigenous Authorities (AATIs) with provincial governments, municipalities and environmental authorities. In the national arena, they support the development of public policies based on local processes, through monitoring legislative and jurisprudential output, negotiations with ministerial bodies – Environment, Education, Culture, Social Protection, Interior and Justice, and Planning – and active participation in interinstitutional working groups, to define strategies for sustainable development of the Colombian Amazon, with conservation as the starting point. They have developed a “National Environmental Governance Strategy for Conservation and Sustainability”, and in alliance with other organizations from civil society and the private sector, they recently presented an exercise on accountability for the Amazon region, under the name “Amazonas 2030”.
In the international arena they coordinate actions with non-government and indigenous organizations from Brazil and Venezuela within the framework of the “Cooperation and Alliance in the North and West Amazon” (CANOA) initiative, and with non-government organizations from all Amazon countries through the “Linking the Amazon Region” (ARA – Articulación Regional Amazónica), which seek the conservation of biological and cultural diversity in response to the threats of climate change. They have also led the “Amazon Network of Socio-Environmental Geo-Referenced Information” (RAISG – Red Amazónica de Información Socioambiental Georefenciada), as a space for the production and exchange of mapping information for the pan-Amazon region.See more