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International STEM Day: Indigenous wisdom and technology

We spoke with the Indigenous student who hopes to merge technology with ancestral wisdom.

Día-Internacional-Stem

To celebrate International Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Day, we share the story of América Anayelli Olguín, a young Indigenous woman from Zacatlán, Mexico who will soon begin a postgraduate degree in Geographic Information and Science Systems, with the support of the FSC Indigenous Foundation through its IPARD program. America will study for a postgraduate degree at UNIGIS Latin America, in Geographic Information Systems, tools that allow capturing, storing, analyzing and visualizing geospatial data to make location-based decisions. This program has a high content related to the STEM educational approach that addresses the integration of knowledge through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. America’s goal is to apply geographic analysis for territorial development, agriculture, and environmental conservation in Indigenous territories.

In recent years, America has focused her work on documentation in defense of her territory and the dissemination of culture through social networks. Currently, she collaborates with the Union of Ejidos of the Sierra Norte de Puebla, where she supports local communities in the sustainable and legal use of their forests, and in their internal organizational processes. In addition, she is part of the network of communicators of the MOCAF Network and the youth movement of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests. She is also an active member of the Regional Collective in Defense of Forests and Territory of the Sierra Norte de Puebla. Her contributions will have a significant impact, including the development of Land Management Plans and participatory rural assessments in support of forest communities in her region. Find out more about how Indigenous ancestral wisdom is combined with science for the benefit of communities in this interview.

What motivated your interest in this course to learn about GIS?

Given the area in which I have worked in recent years, in supporting local communities in their timber harvesting, I have discovered the great work that the communities of the region have done in the preservation and restoration of the environment, something that unfortunately is not recognized by the general population, which in many cases is usually from ignorance of the activities and benefits that community forestry brings. So I want to promote a dissemination campaign on this issue that will consist of presenting materials with geographic information that is easy to understand for everyone but contains truthful information and adequately expresses the message. I believe that when the population knows and understands its region, with all its characteristics, a first step is taken to defend the territory. Having the skills to process information with Geographic Information Systems can be a powerful tool to strengthen and support the process that communities carry out for this objective that we have in common in the Sierra Norte de Puebla.

What will you learn in the course?

The course will be both broad and complex; the topics that are of most interest to me are geographic analysis and how we can relate it to issues such as territorial development, agriculture, and the environment because they are day-to-day issues in my family and community.

How will you apply this knowledge in your community and beyond?

One of my goals is to disseminate what the forest communities of the Sierra Norte de Puebla are doing, so I hope to be able to apply my knowledge to support the communities in planning their development, for example with the development of Land Management Plans or Participatory Rural Appraisals; also to support them in obtaining financing or capacity building projects before Mexican government agencies, since it is increasingly complex for forest owners to access these supports.

How will you share the knowledge gained with the communities?

One way to support the communities is to give them the tools so that they can promote their projects and raise their voices. I can share the knowledge through the Mexican Network of Peasant Forestry Organizations (REDMOCAF) because, given the reach they have, we can promote projects for trainings with young people from all over the country who are members of the organizations that belong to the network.

Why do you think it is important for Indigenous Peoples to work in science and technology?

Bringing technology and traditions together can have many benefits, the first being the documentation of these traditions and an approach for Indigenous Peoples and local communities to monitor how their territory is developing and trending towards change.

How can GIS help Indigenous communities?

It helps to manage the resources we have which, with inherited knowledge, creates impact in the fight for the environment and climate change.

GIS are tools that allow us to chart a path to a future. With geographic information, we trace a legacy in maps, but also in culture and resilience. They also help us protect our lands and prepare for the natural challenges that life presents us because we are custodians of our home.

Do you have any other messages you would like to share?

GIS gives us the power to chart our own destiny, it gives us the ability to plan, build, and care so that future generations will inherit a world enriched by our traditions.

With the support of GIS, our voices are louder, and our decisions clearer. Together, we forge a future that protects the legacy we will leave to our descendants.

In short, GIS is a powerful tool that lights the way to firmly defend our territory and heritage in the Sierra Norte de Puebla. The knowledge you acquire in this course will be the foundation with which we will protect our land.

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The process of strengthening the traditional governance of the Indigenous Peoples of Panama continues 

Four Indigenous territories in Panama initiated a process of collective elaboration of new Organic Charters and Internal Regulations.

Started in October 2022, the traditional authorities of four Indigenous territories in Panama (Comarca Naso Tjër Di, Comarca Kuna de Madungandi, the Emberá and Wounaan Collective Lands of Darién, and the National Congress of the Wounaan People) began a process to strengthen their territorial governance systems through the collective drafting of new Organic Charters and Internal Regulations.

For Indigenous Peoples an Organic Charter and Internal Regulations is a legal document that organizes and establishes: 1) Criteria for the election of local, regional or general authorities; 2) Uses and rights over the land and the conservation of nature; 3) Social norms related to traditional and plant medicine; and 4) Mechanisms that ensure gender parity in the representation of authorities.

In May 2023, the four territories that initiated these processes have suceeded in validating the drafts of their Organic Charters and Internal Regulations before their local and general authorities and in the presence of government representatives. 

The Kuna Comarca of Madungandi approved through an assembly/workshop the Internal Regulations of its General Congress in the community of Ibedi on May 10, with the participation of 50 sahilas (local Kuna authorities) and their argar (interpreters of the sahilas).  

Act of validation of the Internal Regulations of the Tuira Region of the Emberá, Wounaan and Eyabida Collective Lands of Darién, community of Pijibasal.

A week later, the same process was carried out in the community of Pijibasal in the province of Darien, in the Regional Congress of the Tuira, which belongs to the Embera and Wounaan Collective Lands of Darien; with the participation of 50 local Embera, Wounaan and Eyabida authorities (known as Noko, Chi Pör and Buru according to each community).

Thirty people from the community also participated in both workshops, including children, youth, women and elders with a voice and vote to contribute to the disucssion, as the workshops are open to the general public.

COMARCA KUNA DE MADUNGANDI

In the last 8 months, the technical team of the Madungandi General Congress analyzed, together with sahilas and argar, more than 100 articles that establish, for example, the main functions of the community authorities (sahilas, argar and sualibed or community police), their reasons for dismissal and election, and developed the rights to land, hunting and family from the Kuna way of thinking.

To reach a consensus on the content of the document, two four-day workshops were convened between October and February 2022-2023, attended by more than 30 authorities and officials of the Madungandi General Congress, both of which were held in Akua Yala, the capital of the comarca.

A significant challenge was to transcribe all the procedures, functions, methods and other elements that already exist and are used by the Kunas of Madungandi into the final document that will be submitted to the Ministry of Government for approval.

View of the bridge over Lake Bayano from the Madungandi General Congress offices in the Akua Yala community.

Vista del puente sobre el lago Bayano desde las oficinas del Congreso General de Madungandi en la comunidad de Akua Yala.

EMBERÁ, WOUNAAN AND EYABIDA COLLECTIVE LANDS

In Panama, the title of Collective Lands is granted to Indigenous communities that were left out of a Comarca when the Comarcas were created. The title of Collective Lands represents the ancestral right to the sovereignty of their territory for the people who inhabit it.

Such is the case of the Emberá and Wounaan Collective Lands of Darién, where the Eyabida people have also been living for some years.  The Eyabida were persecuted by the internal conflicts in Colombia, where they originate. The process of elaboration of the Internal Regulations of the Tuira Region served then as a propitious moment to officially establish the Eyabida People as inhabitants of the Collective Lands.

Law student Benicio Domicó participated in the last two workshops and his contributions from perspective of the Eyabida identity were essential in drafting the Internal Regulations.

At the workshops, first held in the community of Mercadeo in November 2022 and a second in the community of Bajo Lepe in March 2023, more than 30 traditional authorities, mostly Nokora (Emberá) and to a lesser extent Chi Pörnaan (Wounaan) and Burura (Eyabida), analyzed and interpreted the text that mandates ways to administer justice, certify authorities and marriages, establishes collective rights over the use of natural resources and restrictions on activities of outsiders within the territory.

REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN

Although there are few women in decision-making positions in both territories, the drafting of the Internal Regulations provided an opportunity for Emberá and Kuna leaders to create spaces where their proposals and needs could be heard within their General and Regional Congresses. 

In Madungandi, a territory where there have not been any women Sahila, it was agreed that the women would have a representative in the General Congress, who would be elected by the women themselves and would have the right to speak and vote in the Congress.

In the Tuira Region, two key leaders participated in all the workshops: the deputy general cacique, Lucrecia Caisamo, and the Noko of the Pijibasal community, Lucia Flaco, who contributed to the consensus on issues related to land care, traditions, and the community economy.

From left to right: Pijibasal’s Noko, Lucía Flaco, talks with the deputy cacique general, Lucrecia Caisamo, during the workshops in the Bajo Lepe community.

DISPUTED TERRITORIES

The population of the Kuna Comarca of Madungandi and the Emberá and Wounaan Collective Lands of Darién have been strongly affected by megaprojects imposed on their territories.

Akua Yala, capital of Madungandi, is a relocated community. Their ancestral territory was completely flooded as a result of the construction of the Bayano Hydroelectric Dam in the 1970s. Likewise, the Alto Bayano Collective Lands, which include the communities of Ipetí and Piriatí Emberá in East Panama, were also relocated.

The disappearance of native forests and the poor quality of the land in the areas to which they were relocated has caused significant cultural losses. Without forests, these Peoples cannot practice or adequately transmit traditional knowledge about land use, medicinal plants, or ecosystem conservation.

Another example is the Bajo Lepe community, site of the second workshop, whose location is affected by the concession of 325,000 hectares from the State of Panama to the oil company Sinclair Panama Oil Corporation in 2018, as denounced by community members on the way to the workshop.

During the trip to the community of Pijibasal, one could see fields stripped bare by illegal and indiscriminate logging.

IMPACT OF THE PROJECT

The collective work of the communities to organize their governance and develop social, cultural, economic and conservation norms based on discussions open to the entire community have served to raise awareness among young people, local leaders, elders, and authorities about their rights as Indigenous Peoples.

Throughout the process of drafting the Organic Charters and/or Internal Regulations of the four territories benefiting from the Strengthening the Indigenous Agenda Project (FAIP), the communities demonstrated interest in knowing and understanding the rules that govern them.

FAIP aims to strengthen the political structures of the Comarca Naso Tjër Di, the Comarca Kuna de Madungandi, the Emberá and Wounaan Collective Lands of Darién, and the National Congress of the Wounaan People by drafting and publishing their organic charters or internal regulations.

FAIP is funded by USAID and FSC, implemented by the FSC Indigenous Foundation and framed within the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) program, executed in coordination with AMPB, CMLT and AMARIE.

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Comarca Naso Tjër Di continues the revision of its Organic Charter in Drudi  

The Organic Charter is fundamental to legalize and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ rights in a territory

The project Strengthening of the Indigenous Agenda of Panama (FAIP for its initials in Spanish) concluded the elaboration of the Organic Charter of the Naso Tjër Di Comarca (territory) on February 21st in the community of Drudi.  

This process of revising the articles of the Naso Organic Charter began last October in the community of Sieyllik, the capital of the comarca. At that time, the project’s technical team reviewed more than half of the articles that make up the official document.  

The Organic Charter organizes the method to elect authorities, the geographical limits of the comarca, the cultural organization of the Naso people, land use regulation, and relations between state institutions, among other topics.  

During the five days of the workshop, the technical team, traditional authorities, experts in Naso culture and history, and community representatives agreed on several points of the Naso constitution. 

“For us, it is a new world to start writing the Organic Charter. We had no idea what the Organic Charter was, but after researching, we discovered that it is a statute where the laws that regulate the coexistence and social peace of the Naso region are located. When we were given this challenge, I did not know what I was going to face, but I believe that we assumed it with responsibility.”

Yeraldin Villagra, teacher in the Comarca Naso

“We are securing our future generation so that we can conserve our identity and our natural resources.”

Reynaldo Alexis Santana, King of the Naso Comarca

FAIP is an inter-institutional and international effort that seeks to strengthen Indigenous governance in Panama through the elaboration and publication of Organic Charters of four Indigenous territories. We chose to use a methodology of workshops convened by the authorities and facilitated by a recognized expert in Indigenous Law, doctor in Peace, Conflict, and Democracy Alejandro Bonilla, where community members discuss various issues such as restorative justice, international law, and land systems.

About the community

The community of Drudi is settled on a plain surrounded by mountains and the Ganadera Bocas Livestock Company, about 45 minutes from Changuinola through extensive pastures for cows and horses that were created by deforesting the province.  

Drudi was the scene of years of struggles between the community and Ganadera Bocas. At its peak, around 200 uniformed men broke into Drudi and burned the 20 houses that made up the settlement. The residents went to Panama City and slept in Santa Ana Park waiting for a response from the government.  

Today the Naso Tjër Di Comarca celebrates two and a half years of having been recognized by the State, when President Laurentino Cortizo signed the Law creating the comarca in December 2020 and returned sovereignty over their land to the Naso people.   

FAIP is funded by USAID and the FSC, implemented by the FSC Indigenous Foundation, and framed within the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance for Rights and Development (IPARD) Program, executed in coordination with the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB), the Coordinating Committee of Territorial Women Leaders (CMLT) and the Association of Women Artisans of Ipetí – Emberá (AMARIE)

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Protected: Launching the Indigenous Learning Platform

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