Amazon Indigenous Peoples: New Challenges for Political Participation and Sustainable Development
Amazon Indigenous Peoples: New Challenges for Political Participation and. Sustainable Development
The incorporation of Amazonia into national and international economies has taken the form of colonization, by means of spontaneous or directed migrations and several extractive and production booms, dependent on the fluctuations of market demand.
For the indigenous inhabitants, this process has meant the loss of important parts of their territories, removal by "bosses" to other areas, concentration in missions, massive suffering from epidemics, semi-slavery, or abandonment of their home territories in efforts to avoid contact. Often Amazonian groups have resisted in warlike or messianic ways. These situations have imposed demographic, economic, social, and cultural costs on their people.
In the 1960s, a process of indigenous political organization of a new type took shape. Communal and inter-communal political organizations arose, pursuing the reinstatement of their territorial rights. In this process, indigenous peoples grouped themselves into ethnic and inter-ethnic federations, these in turn centralized into national confederations, and these formed under an international coordinating body. The concrete expression of this process was the formation in the decade of the 1980s of AIDESEP (Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana, or Inter Ethnic Association for Development of the Peruvian Jungle), of CIDOB (Confederación Indígenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana, or Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuadorian Amazonia), and of equivalent organizations in the other Amazonian countries. All of these organizations form the COICA (Coordinadora de Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica, or Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazonian Basin), an international entity representing indigenous peoples from the nine Amazonian countries.
This article refers primarily to the indigenous Amazonian peoples of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, the countries where the South American Program of OXFAM AMERICA works.
The rise of indigenous organizations has been very important for the legal recognition of territories and of Amazonian groups as peoples with specific rights. But if these organizations want to continue reinforcing the indigenous movement and its achievements, they have to confront new challenges.
First, the new type of organizations arise to represent their people in regional, national and international milieux. With few exceptions, there have not yet been enough mechanisms developed at the community level to exercise control over the performance of their representatives and to give community groups more active decision making roles. The challenge today is to create greater grassroots participation in political activity so as to give more sustenance to their leaders' representation.
Second, as a result of the organizational process, Amazonian peoples have obtained legal recognition over important territorial areas. Indigenous territories usually comprise several settlements known as communities which manage the area around them. The indigenous peoples have the challenge now to make development proposals at communal and territorial levels, considering at the same time the susainable management of natural resources and the satisfaction of their needs of subsistence and market goods. The clashes between the market economy and the traditional subsistence economy have to be resolved to give way to a suitable development proposal for indigenous peoples, that want at the same time to improve their living conditions in modern terms, and to maintain goods and values of their traditional life. The constant contradiction between long-term interest in the conservation of natural resources and the short-term interest to satisfy immediate subsistence or market necessities needs to find, in each concrete situation, a solution. The Achievements The Emergence of Indigenous Political Organizations
With the colonization of Amazonia, patterns of settlement have changed from dispersed to nucleated. In this process the influence of churches and schools have had a crucial impact. Indigenous peoples have been drawn more into activities connected with the market. Chiefs, heads of the traditional households constituted by several nuclear families, each with their own hearth but sharing the same house or settlement, have tended to lose their power. The nuclear families from these households have tended to come apart, reconstituting larger nucleated settlements around schools, missions, patrons or different combinations of these. In these villages new arrangements of interchange or products or work have developed between the nuclear families, following kinship and neighborhood relations. Both the nucleated settlements and the articulation with the market have required a more intensive use of natural resources for subsistence and for the sale of products. There is a marked tendency for change in ancestral rules with nature. In many of the new villages, missionaries, bosses, merchants and school teachers have exercised authority over indigenous peoples. With these changes, territorial areas and natural resources under indigenous peoples' management have been reduced.
In the 1960s, indigenous organizations of a new type began to appear with the main objective of defending their territories, resisting missionaries, bosses and other outsiders who wanted to dominate the community for their own interest, and defending their traditional culture and ethnic identity from de-valorization by official education and the incorporation of indigenous peoples in Christian religions. Legal Recognition of Indigenous Territories
On the basis of indigenous organization and often with the collaboration of NGOs, legal recognition over important territorial areas has been obtained. At first they were called tierras (land), but towards the mid 1980s the term and concept of "territory" began to be used, thus focusing on the particular relation between the indigenous peoples and their environment (forest, rivers, lakes, etc.), and proposing the idea that "the indigenous peoples and their territories are one". The mechanisms to obtain legal recognition of land have varied, depending on each country's legislation. In some circumstances, massive movements have pressed the governments to recognize territories to indigenous peoples by supreme decrees, as in Bolivia in 1990, and in Ecuador in 1992.
At the international level, several important advances have been effected in the recognition of the Amazonian groups regarding their rights as people with territories. Among the most important are the Covenant 169 of the International Labor Organization, signed by Peru and Bolivia, and thus recognized as law in both countries, and the advances at the level of the United Nations regarding the rights of indigenous people.
In spite of these achievements and the recognition of Amazonian natives as peoples, there is still much to be done. Even in the countries with advanced legislation in this area, native rights to the subsoil are not recognized. In Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia the new oil boom is placing at risk the natives' rights to decide on their territorial areas, and they are in danger of seeing their environment fast degraded.
In Peru, the Constitution from 1993 that has a clear neoliberal focus has denied the former constitution's recognition of the indigenous community lands as non-alienable (not allowed to be sold), non-embargable (not allowed to be embargated), and has reduced the recognition of their prescription (rights to the land for ancestral possession). Through these constitutional changes the State has diminished the protection of indigenous communal lands. Indigenous peoples, through the decision of the community assemblies, would be able to use the land as a guarantee for credits with the risk of losing it. In this way indigenous lands would be now in condition to enter the market as a commercial value. The Problems Weaknesses in the Indigenous Political Organizations
The new indigenous organizations were created with the main purpose of achieving political and social rights. For this purpose, people elected as leaders must know how to communicate with the cultural and language codes of the major society: to speak Spanish, to be able to read and write, and to be knowledgeable about the behavior of non-indigenous people. This new type of knowledge is very much valued today as a new source of power in the indigenous society but is unequally distributed within communities.
As new forms of organizational structure and decision-making have appeared, there has not been sufficient development of a normative process for guiding the behavior of leaders in their representative role. This situation has led to many cases in which the actions of leaders have been highly personal and without sufficient transparency for the communities they represent. What is needed is a greater accountability of the national and international leaders to the indigenous people - in order to strengthen the indigenous intercommunal organizations. Indigenous organizations have to work hard in developing mechanisms to achieve this purpose.
What has usually happened is that indigenous people who speak Spanish, who are able to read and write, and who are knowledgeable about non-indigenous behavior have received the trust of communities and local organizations to represent them. It has been proven that this is not enough. There must be a clearer mandate from the grassroots groups to the leaders for their representation, and a mechanism for their accountability has to be developed. Many leaders have acted as if they had received a "blank check" from the people who have elected them.
A further constraint in indigenous organizations is that, with few exceptions, only men have occupied the leadership posts, limiting the participation of women. The relations between outside agents and indigenous peoples have occurred primarily through men. It is not clear whether this situation results from outsiders (missionaries, bosses, development agents, etc.) pursuing connections with men only, or if it results from indigenous norms which determine that spokespersons for non-indigenous societies should be men, generally household heads. Whatever the reason, at present, with few exceptions, men hold the posts in the new political organizations. Initiatives of indigenous women to attain political power are based primarily on gaining access to knowledge of the new type (reading, writing, accounting, training in activities directed to the market such as hand crafts).
Frequently, men resist attempts to incorporate women into organizational activities, arguing that division could arise at family and community levels which would compromise the unity needed for joint struggle, as in the defense of territory and natural resources. However, women's participation in decision-making at communal and inter-communal levels could reinforce the defense of territories and natural resources. It is a common interest among men and women. Women's participation can also contribute to a better focus on the activities to be developed. Unsustainable Development in Indigenous Areas
In the process of colonization, indigenous and market economies have met, creating a series of clashes since each, in many ways, is organized according to opposing principles. The indigenous economy is organized around family production for subsistence and exchange within and between households. It is based on the use of a great diversity of natural resources and a sexual division of labor. Nature is understood as inhabited by spiritual beings, "owners" of the different species with which relations of exchange are established according to ancestral norms. Resources are used according to the household's needs and the exchange obligations with other households. There is neither the need for the technology to accumulate goods. Nature and subsistence agricultural plots are the "larder" from which one takes as needed. Individual prestige is based on generosity. The more generous the person, the greater the prestige acquired within the society. Relations of exchange and reciprocity create the fabric of cohesion within and between the households. These values of generosity, exchange and reciprocity lead to a strong feeling of material equality. He who has and does not share is regarded as mezquino or stingy, and is criticized.
The process of articulation between the indigenous and the market economies marks the tendency towards a more intensive and selective production, with a more utilitarian use of nature and more specialized, less diversified work. Values of market economy such as saving, accumulation, and investment, are not internalized by the majority of indigenous peoples who act with greater assurance using values of generosity and reciprocal exchange. Diversified production and diversification of resources for subsistence is reduced when people have to dedicate more time and energy to activities involving the market. Therefore, the possibilities for the exchange of subsistence goods within indigenous society is also reduced. However, market goods and money enter and circulate in the network of exchange and reciprocity through longterm loans, which in turn prevents savings, accumulation, and investment.
In the process of articulation of the indigenous and market economies, besides the growing process leading to less access to natural resources, there is also a weakening of the mechanisms for the transmission of knowledge related to subsistence activities and diversified resource management. There is a decrease in the diversity of agricultural produce, of gathered produce from the forest, and of hunting and fishing which are usually not substituted satisfactorily by other goods from market sources. This has had negative effects on the nutritional status of the population.
In recent decades a number of projects have been instituted by the government, non-government organizations, and indigenous organizations, intended to create enterprises for production and commercialization of products for the market. Reality has shown that most of these projects have failed due to a combination of factors: many were not based on good studies of feasibility and markets; indigenous areas usually are located very far from markets and transportation costs are exceedingly high; within indigenous society there are few people trained in enterprise management; and community members press for the distribution of goods based on long-term loans, impeding capitalization. Many projects were made on the basis of communal property, resulting in the project being at the same time "of everybody and of nobody," of everybody at the time of obtaining benefits and of nobody at the time of taking on responsibilities. Nevertheless, alternatives based on individual enterprise have not proven viable, due to the priority in indigenous communities given to the material equity of all their members.
One should consider that in the majority of cases, depending on the level of articulation with the market and with the dominant society, there are indigenous peoples who continue to manage their natural resources in a sustainable way based on a traditional system of exchange of goods and reciprocity. It is important that any activity, which is proposed for indigenous communities regarding its relation with the market economy, take account of the impact that can occur in these traditional forms of natural resource management and sources of food security. The Challenges Grassroots Participation and Sustainable Development
Indigenous organizations at the local level are beginning to work on plans of territorial natural resources management. The implementation of these plans involve indigenous organizations - and NGOs that work with them - in dealing with the contradiction between market economy and the traditional subsistence economy, and with the long-term and short-term interests in the management of natural resources. The need to solve these contradictions and to make the development proposals realistic, are leading them to seek a wider and more real participation of the people at the communal level.
In order to create conditions of sustainable development suitable for indigenous peoples, the challenge now is to make development proposals at communal and territorial levels, considering at the same time the sustainable management of natural resources and the satisfaction of their needs of subsistence and market goods. It is necessary to reinforce the family and communal economy (depending on the resource) in their subsistence and market production into a congruent plan of diverse activities as an economic strategy in accordance with the environment and with the traditional culture.
The process of regulating the use of resources at communal and territorial levels has to be developed. The traditional forms of natural resource management should be an important source of information and knowledge in this process. To achieve this goal, a broader participation of indigenous peoples is needed in the development process. Participation beyond the educated elite, must be encouraged and must incorporate the whole community, including elders and women. The valorization of their knowledge of resource management can be an important instrument to motivate and reinforce their participation in development activities.
This process also needs the support of scientific and professional multi-disciplinary teams to systematize the information and proposals gathered from the people. This information has to be complemented with scientific studies of the natural resources, such as geological, hydrological and soil characteristics, forest composition, fauna behavior, etc. The Geographic Information System (GIS) is an important tool for these studies. The participation of the local people in the planning of the studies, in the gathering of information, and in the discussion of the results would lend a more complete analysis of their territory. Their involvement is an essential element in consensus-building and in the formulation of sustainable development proposals.
The direction of this process is being led by indigenous organizations with the support of professionals from NGOs. They are beginning to open the participation process to a wider participant base, giving more effective roles in real decision-making to the local people, including women. Sustainable development proposals require creativity, careful study, and experimentation. Conclusion
Since the 1960s indigenous organizations of a new type began to appear with the main objective of defending their communal lands. Actions of these organizations at regional, national and international levels have achieved important results in the legal recognition of territories and in Amazonian peoples' rights. Nevertheless, these indigenous organizations now face challenges to reinforce their actual representative system and to formulate sustainable development proposals for indigenous areas.
The need of indigenous peoples to formulate development proposals, based on communal and territorial natural resources management plans, can result in the reinforcement of their communal and inter-communal organizations. The process of establishing realistic development proposals needs widespread participation of community and territory members. This process will result in the reinforcement of the grassroots organizations.
Stronger grassroots groups will be able to develop mechanisms of accountability for their representative leaders, reinforcing the indigenous movement in defense of their territory and natural resources, their human and civil rights, and in the sustainable development of indigenous areas. References Chapin, Mac. 1994. Recapturing the old ways: traditional knowledge and western science among the Kuna Indians of Panama, in Kleymeyer, Ch. editor, Cultural Expressions and Grassroots Development. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers. Chirif, A. Garcia, P. Smith, R. 1991. El Indigena y su Territorio. OXFAM/COICA. Lima. Garcia, P. Territorios Indigenas y la Nueva Legislación Agraria en el Perú. IWGIA & Racimos de Ungurahui. Lima. OXFAM-COICA. Estrategia Económicas para Pueblos Indígenas. In press. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.