The Jenzerá Working Group: Working in support of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-Colombians and Peasants in Colombia since 1998

The Jenzerá working group is currently finishing training activities for the second cohort of its Interethnic School for Conflict Resolution and is supporting the Embera Katío indigenous community of the Lower San Jorge River in Córdoba (Colombia) with local governance efforts.

The second cohort of the interethnic school met five times to discuss issues of human rights, conflict resolution, territorial governance, land and natural resources. The group of forty leaders, most of them young men and women, wrapped up their work for the school by collecting oral histories from their community elders. They then shared this valuable information on local history, culture, customary rules and traditional land-use practices with their peers. They participated in the People’s Congress, a large national gathering of ethnic groups and rural communities in Cali, Colombia (November 2011). Such political events facilitate networking with leaders and organizations and serve as information-sharing forums. Finally, some of Jenzerá’s “students” as we fondly call people who have gone through our training workshops also participated in last month’s “National Meeting of Black Community Councils” which assembled about 700 people from traditional Afro-Colombian communities and black organizations in Bogotá for three days.

In February of this year, Jenzerá began activities in support of the Embera Katío community in the Lower San Jorge River. This community moved here in the 1990s after their ancestral lands were flooded by the URRA hydroelectric project in the Sinú River. The project was wrought with corruption and gross human rights violations, including the assassination by paramilitary forces of a number of Embera Katío leaders and their allies, most notably Kimi Pernía Domicó. Jenzerá staff has been carrying out short and long-term visits to the area in support of community leaders. The activities are led by Aquileo Yagarí, Governor of the Karmata Rua Emberá Chamí Indian reserve, Jenzerá member and participant of Jenzerá’s first Inter-ethnic School.

Jenzera continues to visit schools in Bogota to raise awareness among urban children and young adults about the plight, but also achievements, of Colombia’s indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The organization has an active research agenda and has published various manuscripts (you can “befriend” us in Facebook (in English) or go to www.jenzera.org (in Spanish) to find some of these resources). More recently Efraín Jaramillo, Jenzerá director, published a set of essays on Indigenous Communities and the State in Colombia and Marcela Tobón Yagarí (Jenzerá “student” and working group member) presented findings on the crisis of teenage suicides in Colombian indigenous communities in a comparative study that included work on Brazil and Peru.

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