After 20 years of diligent work, conservationists, human rights activists and indigenous communities are celebrating a massive achievement in southwest Colombia: the expansion of the Inga people’s Yunguillo Indigenous Reserve—an area of extraordinary cultural and environmental importance—from 10,675 to 55,341 acres (more than 85 square miles).
The Yunguillo Indigenous Reserve is home to many sacred sites for the Inga people, as well as many threatened species including spectacled bears and jaguars. The expansion also protects the headwaters of the Caquetá River—a major tributary of the Amazon River whose watershed covers 250,000 square kilometers.
The Tilinguera River runs next to the Inga community of Yunguillo and connects to the Caquetá River—one of the major tributaries of the Amazon River. Click to enlarge
The Executive Board of INCODER (the Colombian Institute for Rural Development) approved the expansion today. The decision represents important progress in the implementation of Constitutional Court decision No. 004 of 2009, which safeguards at-risk indigenous communities’ claim to their traditional lands. The Inga tribe of the region will now have increased protection and additional rights to their territory—an area increasingly threatened by mining concessions and other development projects.
“This represents a huge victory, not only for the Inga communities, but for the protection of one of the world’s most biodiverse areas,” said Liliana Madrigal, co-founder of the Amazon Conservation Team in Arlington, Virginia. “The expansion connects Doña Juana National Park (162,741 acres) and Serranía de los Churumbelos National Park and secures an important piece of the Andes-Amazon-Atlantic Corridor proposed by President Santos.”
Nydia Becerra Jacanamejoy, the governor of Yunguillo, expressed how this land is intricately tied to Inga identity and how the Inga are equipped to protect it.
School kids and teachers in the Inga community of Yunguillo. Click to enlarge
“We consider Mother Earth to be both the reason for our existence and our reason for surviving,” she said. “To use the land and its resources properly and respectfully, we observe the traditions passed down over generations. We maintain our identity by maintaining these traditions, while adapting to new conditions in order to protect our territory. We do not believe that identity is possible without territory or that we can protect these lands without a strong sense of collective identity.”
This important achievement is the result of coordinated efforts by the Inga community of Yunguillo, its four communal councils (Osococha, San Carlos, Tandarido and Yunguillo), INCODER, regional indigenous organizations including OZIP, and the Amazon Conservation Team. Thanks to efforts by these groups, the Inga community preemptively developed a plan for territorial management in the expanded reserve. Yesterday, they put this plan into action.