To support community processes so that people can freely decide on their social, political and economic lives by defending their territories, empowering their own governments and developing a self-managed economy that meets local needs and produces healthy and sufficient food.
This working group consists of a number of people in various academic and professional fields, including anthropology, law, sociology, pedagogy, political science, agronomy and linguistics, and is supported by several leaders of indigenous, peasant and Afro-Colombian communities.
We are committed to fostering intercultural understanding between people who despite their differences are being affected by similar social and economic problems. We have provided national and international governmental and non-governmental organizations and the national and local media with expert information on the plight of ethnic groups. Among these we can list Colombia’s Constitutional Court, the United Nations, the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, and the Colombian Commission of Jurists, among others. We now seek to expand our network of friends and allies in the United States to increase our work on behalf of marginalized ethnic groups in our country
Our main activity is the Inter-ethnic School for Conflict Resolution (see below), which constitutes a meeting place for leaders from different communities to problem-solve and learn about current legislation, history, and conflict resolution. We also support agro-ecology activities in the Naya River, and have an active research and publication agenda.
Brief Story of the Jenzera Working Group
Jenzera was founded in 1998 by a group of friends and colleagues connected to national and regional Indian movement organizations. It is an interdisciplinary and inter-ethnic group of men and women committed to the organizational efforts of indigenous peoples, Afro-Colombians and peasants trying to overcome poverty and social exclusion, and this is our story.
In 1995 the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) summoned a group of friends who worked with indigenous peoples in different areas to support the Embera Katío of the Upper Sinu River in the department of Córdoba. This assistance was urgently needed given that a substantial part of Indian Territory would be flooded to build a hydroelectric dam. The affected communities had neither been informed about the environmental impacts of this project, nor knew that the construction company, URRA S.A. claimed that it had completed the legal process of free, prior and informed consultation with the tribe.
The group was made up of an anthropologist (Efraín Jaramillo), a lawyer (Gregorio Meza) and an agronomist (Fernando Castrillón) who joined six Embera Katío leaders from the region: Kimy Pernia (traditional authority), Lucindo Domicó (leader of the river Verde communities) Simón Domicó (governor of the Karagabí reserve), Ruperto Cabrera (leader of the Sinu River), and Luis Alberto Paneso and Aurelio Jarúpia (leaders of the Esmeralda river).
The traditional leader Kimy Pernia worried about the difficulties and risks involved with defending the interests of a tribe on the verge of disintegration. He said that the plight of his people and the magnitude of the organizational, environmental, cultural and political problems that needed to be solved warranted the support of a close-knit, courageous and determined team of people. Kimy alluded to the work of ants to describe the team’s work in Embera Katío land and thus named the group Jenzera (Embera word for ant).
Later, we would tragically understand Kimy’s reasoning for working together and in solidarity. During the process of organization and mobilization in defense of the rights of this community, 19 leaders were assassinated by paramilitary groups, including Kimy Pernia and Lucindo Domicó from the Jenzera group and Alonso María Jarupia, governor of the Kiparadó community and chief advisor to Jenzera. A third member of the original group, Luis Alberto Paneso (Nemburuby Chamarra) died in 2011 under unclear circumstances in an accident.
Efraín Jaramillo (Jenzera’s current director) had to leave the area after being declared a “military target” by paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño. Faced with persistent threats, the remaining Jenzera team members subsequently gave up their work and left the area. This team would reunite a few years later in Bogota. On this occasion we reviewed Jenzera’s work in the Sinu River, reflected on the support provided to the community, our achievements such as the formulation of an ethno-development plan, and our commitment to the Embera indigenous group and their martyrs.
Our main conclusion was that even though we faced irreparable losses with the assassination of dear friends and valuable leaders for the Embera people and the national indigenous movement, our work based on researching problems with the community, supporting the organizational and cultural mobilization of the Embera and disseminating this information had to continue. We thus concluded that we had to revive the Working Group to keep on supporting other indigenous people. This brought us to work with Sikuani, Cuiba, Amorúa, Yamalero and Saliva,nomadic peoples of the Casanare department, who had survived the ethnocide resulting from the 1930s colonization process of the vast eastern Colombia tropical plains.
By the year 2003 Jenzera realized that it needed to establish itself as a more formal organization to expand its work, which it did with the help of old and new contributors to indigenous organizations like Gloria Salinas and Marcela Velasco, who had tried to organize women in the Embera Katío reserve, and who volunteered as administrators for Jenzera, taking on legal, fiscal, grant-writing, as well as training responsibilities. Later Aquileo Yagarí (Embera leader and governor of Karmata Rua), Patricia Tobón (indigenous lawyer), José Caicedo (sociologist and Afro-Colombian leader), and Patricia Sánchez (economist) became committed to Jenzera.
At this time, we expanded our work to the Pacific region. It is in this multiethnic region of rain forests, great rivers and mangroves where Jenzera developed in 2007 its hallmark project, the “Inter-ethnic School for Conflict Resolution” which constitutes a learning and problem-solving assembly where community leaders, despite their cultural differences, unite in the defense of territories and natural resources currently threatened by extractive activities.
The Interethnic School for Conflict Resolution 2007-present
Since 2007, Jenzera has developed curricular materials on conflict management, ethnic rights, inter-ethnic relations, and economic rights with Afro-Colombian, indigenous, and peasant leaders from various rivers in the Pacific coast. Additionally, it organizes guided visits for community leaders to other regions of Colombia that have developed effective communication, conservation or conflict-resolution strategies. The school attempts to empower local organizations to work together to peacefully resist armed conflict, manage interethnic relations in various regions, and preserve the rights of these communities. The trainings hope to increase local negotiation capacities so that communities can confront challenges, including armed conflict and rapid economic change.
There has seen tremendous demand from local leaders wishing to participate in this school, and Jenzera has unfortunately not been able to accommodate all of the prospective participants. In spite of this, we are committed to keeping the school and sustaining this meeting space to continue forming future leaders.
Your contribution to the Interethnic School:
Thank you for learning more about our work. You can support us by contributing to the Interethnic School where Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and peasant leaders regularly meet to learn, discuss, and debate major issues affecting their communities. This is a space for men, women, youths, and traditional authorities who are committed to human rights, environmental conservation and good governance in their lands. The majority of leader who participate in the Interethnic School live in remote or far away communities where communication and transportation costs are high, making it difficult for them to mobilize. They come from Colombia’s Pacific coast rainforest one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, where mobilization is difficult, gasoline scarce and expensive and communities often denied the right to move freely by armed actors. For logistical and even, security reasons, the Interethnic School normally meets in regional urban centers like Buenaventura, or in communities that can provide some security and an adequate supply of electricity, lodging and sanitation facilities. For this reason, the Interethnic School is an itinerant school and people have to travel long hours to arrive to the meeting. In these meetings they access crucial information and establish important ties with other community leaders to share their experiences and become allies under such difficult conditions.