Colombian Indian Organizations ONIC

Linked with Hilda Liria Domicó Bailarín – Colombia.

Published in Cultural Survival Quarterly, Issue 8.4, December 31, 1984, By Zornosa, Yesid Campos:

A long process of extermination and reduction of rich and advanced Indian cultures began almost 500 years ago. The Aztec, Maya, Tayrona, Inca and Muisca, among others, had large cities and a wide variety of crops; they Were accomplished artisans, musicians and singers, philosophers and mathematicians, recognized astronomers and scientists. But, the conquest violently altered the dynamics of indigenous America; with it came land seizures, tribute payments and various forms of labor control such as the repartimiento, the encomienda and the mita. Onto Indian society, the colono imposed not only himself but his language, beliefs, customs and personal interests.

Nowadays in Colombia’s multi-ethnic society more than 75 separate Indian cultures (about 2% of the total population) resist the continual besiegement and aggression of the national majority.

Those who have survived the difficult and persistent struggle possess valuable and extensive territories, lands which are sacred to them and essential for their physical survival. In most cases, their rights to these lands are not recognized; even when they are the lands have been repeatedly invaded with little opposition from the authorities.

According to the Colombian National Planning Board, “…only about 1/2 of the nation’s Indians possess lands legally titled by the State…” Even these, however, including those who have resguardos (communal landholdings) with title (36% of the total Indian population) and those who have been granted zonas de reserva (9% of the indigenous population), face critical problems of invasion and dispossession of their lands by colonists.

The formal education directly provided by the State or contracted through the Missions usually reveals: “…a system inadequate to meet the specific characteristics and needs of the different Indian groups…”. This educational system also exhibits ethnocentric, sometimes racist, criteria. Far from helping to strengthen the Indians’ cultural identity, helping to train them and to seek alternative solutions for their different needs and problems, education has contributed to the gradual destruction of their values and of their cultures in general, making Indians ashamed of themselves.

In the field of health, even a superficial sampling of the illness and mortality rates illustrates the Indians’ precarious living conditions. Nutrition levels decrease as Indians are deprived of their lands for subsistence agriculture.

Colombian government policy has oscillated between demagoguery, paternalism and repression. Law 89 of 1890 is still in force. Although this law “determines the manner in which the savages should be governed, with the goal of making them civilized” and should be changed to meet present realities, it is much more “progressive” and in keeping with the interests of the Indians, in terms of protection of their resguardos and in respecting their local authorities (cabildos), than the so-called Indian Statute proposed by the Colombian government in 1980. This statute not only denied, in an indirect way, the Indians’ rights of ownership of traditionally occupied lands, it also conferred on the President of the Republic absolute authority over the Indians’ legal system and social organization. This statute never became law, due to strong opposition by Indian organizations, some international human rights groups and organizations of professionals such as anthropologists and lawyers.

The Formation of ONIC:

(Read the rest of this long article on Cultural Survival, promoting the Rights, Voices and Visions of Indigenous Peoples).

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