Territorial rights of Amazonian group underway to be officially recognised
Posted on behalf of: Sussex Sustainability Research Programme
Last updated: Wednesday, 12 October 2022
After a decade of struggle the Amawaka community of Alto Esperanza (High Hope) has achieved the first step in gaining official recognition of their territorial rights. Living on the Inuya River, meaning ‘Place of the Jaguar’, in the Amazon Forests of Southwest Peru, Amawaka people are still considered to be in ‘initial contact’ with wider Peruvian society. Sustained peaceful relations started in the late 1940s, followed by evangelical missionary activities that encouraged Amawaka people into forming permanent settlements. At the headwaters of the Inuya, Alto Esperanza is the most recent settlement to form, only starting to seek official recognition eleven years ago. Other groups, some of whom are close kin to families in Alto Esperanza, still live in voluntary isolation in the surrounding forests.
This outcome is a result of an ESRC-funded project —The Making of an Integrated Landscape of Conservation — led by Dr Evan Killick and based in the University of Sussex’s Global Studies School and the Sussex Sustainability Research Programme (SSRP). Dr Chris Hewlett has been leading the activities on the Inuya working with Marlly Rojas Rios and Edgar Monsin, the head of the local indigenous federation, FIARIM. The team has been working with indigenous communities around the Purus National Park, Purus Communal Reserve and Morunawa Reserve to investigate their current realities and address their needs. While the protected areas have had many positive impacts in the area, local communities still face a series of challenges. These include threats from timber concessions, drug trafficking activities and internal migrants intent on settling undemarcated land. In the face of these, a key way to secure the territory for the Amawaka people and the forests around them is through gaining official titles to the land.
Working with representatives of SERNANP (Peru’s National Parks Service) and the Ministries of Agriculture and Culture as well as the NGO Upper Amazon Conservancy and Indigenous organisations, our research team helped produce the evidence and documents to make an official application for territorial recognition from the Peruvian government. The team also supported the people of Alto Esperanza through the necessary bureaucratic processes.
On 20th September the Ministry of Culture announced that Alto Esperanza’s claim has been officially accepted. This marks the first time such a group still in the official stage of ‘Initial Contact’ has achieved this status and has thus set an important precedent for other groups, particularly those still living in isolation in the surrounding area. Legal recognition is important as it strengthens Amawaka people’s ability to protect their lands and livelihoods from the threats they face. These include land invasions, illegal logging, and narcotrafficking all of which only increased during the COVID-pandemic in the face of reduced actions by the state and increased economic hardships. Government recognition also means that, in time, a school will be built and teachers provided and health-care provision should improve while community members’ rights to use the resources of the forest will be protected.
While this is still just the first step in the official process that is likely to take at least two years, it emphasises the importance and power of collaborative research that seeks to address, and find solutions for the complex issues that face Indigenous Peoples and their forest environments in South America.