Andes Amazon Fund celebrates the expansion of the Titanho Nijaamu La Libertad Indigenous Reserve or Resguardo in the Amazonas department of Colombia. Located along the Amazon River near the intersection of the Colombian, Peruvian, and Brazilian borders, the La Libertad Indigenous Reserve was originally titled in December 2020, with an area of 6,822 acres (2,670 ha). The expansion adds 54,169 acres (21,921 hectares), bringing the total area to 60,991 acres (24,681 hectares). The reserve is home to 489 people belonging to four ethnic groups: Yagua, Ticuna, Cocama, and Yacuna. This expansion recognizes the territorial rights of these Indigenous Peoples, while also protecting thousands of acres of rainforest ecosystems and Amazon River tributaries.
Four Indigenous Ethnicities, One Land, and Many Stories
Twenty-five years ago, a group of over 100 families belonging to the Yagua, Ticuna, Cocama, and Yacuna Indigenous groups began advocating for the Colombian government to recognize their territory as an Indigenous Reserve. Living at the meeting point of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru, and along the Amazon River, most of these families came from a long line of nomadic peoples that lived and migrated between the three countries.
“We were nomads– in different places. We lived in Peru, Brazil, and Colombia, and we never had just one settlement. Then we realized that we… had no territory. From there, the idea was born to be recognized as a reserve.” – Sintia Cahuache, authority of the La Libertad reserve.
All four of the Indigenous ethnicities living within the reserve have a long history of displacement. First by Spanish colonizers in the 17th century, and then by the rubber boom at the turn of the 20th century. Achieving legal recognition of their territory helps residents to find roots in their traditions, educate younger generations, preserve their sacred sites, and develop a self-governance model in accordance with their cosmovision.
A Biodiversity Haven on the Banks of the Amazon River
La Libertad forms part of one of Colombia’s most important biological corridors and hosts some of the Amazon’s most iconic species of flora and fauna. Over 60% of the expanded reserve is composed of unmodified tropical lowland forests.
“The expansion is extremely important to us… because we have a lot to protect. Out there is the Mayancu [a Yagua spiritual entity] which is very sacred to us; then there are the animals, the nature….”Sintia Cahuache, authority of the La Libertad reserve.
The region is home to at least 468 registered species of birds, unique mammals like the critically endangered cotton-topped tamarin (Saguinus oedipus), the endangered night monkey (Aotus spp.), and three of the four threatened Amazonian aquatic mammals: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), pink river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), and the endangered Tucuxi dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis).
La Libertad’s location along the Amazon River and several of its tributaries also makes the territory a haven for migratory fish and aquatic birds.
Reforestation initiatives are among the many plans for the future of the Titanho Nijaamu La Libertad Indigenous Reserve. Residents will plant endangered palms and timber trees for sustainable agroforestry. They will also build a new Maloca, a traditional structure for Indigenous Peoples in the region, to develop a center for cultural practices, the transmission of knowledge from elders to younger generations, and political organization.
This expansion will also facilitate the expansion of neighboring Indigenous reserves. As the reserves border one another, the territorial delimitation and topographic surveys completed for La Libertad helped fulfill mapping requirements for the others.
The expansion of Titanho Nijaamu La Libertad and its neighboring reserves is part of the Colombian Government’s goals to implement its commitment to “agrarian reform,” where the legal recognition of Indigenous lands makes up a critical element, not only for human rights but as an effective method for the conservation of the Colombian Amazon.
Referencing the Colombian government’s goals for agrarian reform, while at an event held by Gaia Amazonas which included celebrating the expansion of La Libertad, Jhenifer Mojica, the Minister of Agriculture said: “The Amazon is life and, therefore, it has to be recognized [as such] and defended. The Colombian State, society in general, and humanity have to reciprocate the care that Indigenous Peoples provide [for the forest]. It is a co-responsibility and necessary to advance in the recognition of territorial rights [of Indigenous Peoples].”
The expansion of the Titanho Nijaamu La Libertad Indigenous Reserve was made possible thanks to the years-long advocacy of its residents, the current leaders of the reserve: Sintia Unila Cahuache Zenon and Teófilo Jesús Plazas Yucuna, Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and the National Land Agency, and our partners at the NGO Fundación Gaia Amazonas.