Land rights is a constantly recurring theme in our work with indigenous peoples throughout the world. And the Shipibo people have asked for our assistance in their struggles over territory. In June, the Village Earth Peru Project Coordinator held a community-based geographic technology workshop in the lower Ucayali. Leaders from two communities in the Calleria district joined forces to protect their land. Both communities were given legal titles to their land years ago, however, in the dynamic Amazonian environment their lands have changed dramatically since the initial titling. Half of what was once part of the community is now overtaken by the mighty Ucayali River with more and more of the community being washed away daily into the river as it changes course. Originally, indigenous communities changed location as the river moved, but now communities are forced to remain within government-imposed boundaries.
Forcing indigenous peoples to be subjugated within externally-imposed borders does not work in the dynamic environment of the Amazon. However, protecting indigenous land through titling and demarcation is a necessary evil right now in order to protect communities’ rights to land and resources. Much of the strategy of the Peruvian government has been to conquer and divide indigenous territories. However, many indigenous leaders and activists are calling for a new way to think about indigenous territory – and to remind the world they have sustainably managed their forests for thousands of years. “The demand for territorial clarity and non-overlapping negotiations on land issues is predicated on an acceptance of the EuroAmerican way of viewing land, demarking and dividing the land and environment and relationships between people on the basis of European-derived notions of property, ownership, and jurisdiction.”*
Therefore, these communities are looking to expand their legally allotted territories, in order to maintain a sufficient land base that can provide for their self-sustainability. Workshop participants learned how to mark and find way points, use the compass, and many other useful features of Geographic Positioning System (GPS) in order to accurately locate boundaries. Each community was given a GPS unit and they are currently marking the points to which they wish to expand their territories and then will send them to Village Earth, where using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology, we can help them to create maps that they can use in their negotiations with the government.
Both communities expressed worry about the current land grab in the Amazon by non-indigenous colonists. Roads are slowly creeping into their remote district bringing more and more settlers taking forest resources from the indigenous inhabitants.
These communities still have an expensive and arduous process ahead of them in order to expand their allotted territories. And their are many more communities interested in Village Earth mapping and geographic technology workshops. If you would like to make a contribution to these important efforts, please contact: [email protected]
*Alfred, Taiaiake. 2005. Wasase: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom. Broadview Press, Canada.