WENHAM, Massachusetts — Indigenous peoples in Peru and throughout the world are overrepresented in many negative indicators of health, education and wealth. The world is talking about links between self-determination and inequality and the global Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) continues to advocate for the full autonomy and empowerment of Indigenous Peoples worldwide.
In response to the Amazonian Indigenous movement’s call for an organized approach to building multicultural economic and political power, 2020 saw the launch of the School of Indigenous Governance and Amazon Development (EGIDA) in Peru. Each term, Indigenous leaders graduate from EGIDA equipped with practical skills including strategic negotiation, good governance and political communication, which enable empowered self-government locally and internationally.
While spearheaded by the National Indigenous Federation of Peru, known as the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), the school’s partners include the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and USAID. A relatively new institution, EGIDA offers a flexible, Indigenous-led pathway toward increasing the representation, participation and leverage of Amazonian Indigenous Peoples in local and international governance structures, economies and politics.
Land and Governance in Peru
After Brazil, Peru is home to the second-largest portion of the Amazon Rainforest. Making up two-thirds of the country, it holds about 80% of all the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Peru’s Indigenous Peoples’ land stewardship has achieved positive outcomes in conservation, carbon capturing and responsible forestry, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI). The 64 groups of Indigenous Peoples living in Peru’s Amazon Rainforest reinforce the remarkable association between Indigeneity and land conservation: while making up “less than 5% of the world population, Indigenous peoples protect 80% of the Earth’s biodiversity,” according to WWF.
The Nature Conservancy reports that Indigenous people hold 18% of the Peruvian Amazon, while 2.5% goes for those living in voluntary isolation. Though impactful, these developments are no sure way to secure complete stewardship rights, as Peru’s constitution grants the government ownership over all natural resources (including above-ground flora and fauna and below-ground minerals). Threats to Indigenous sovereignty include legal and illegal commercial activities. According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), “21% of Peru’s territory consists of mining concessions, which are superimposed upon 47.8% of the territory of peasant communities.” Such industries place tremendous pressure on the lands these communities live in a reciprocal relationship with. As a result, Indigenous leaders in Peru continue to organize around protecting the natural worlds that their cultures, health and livelihoods depend upon.
Roots of the EGIDA
EGIDA builds upon the model of the Indigenous Territorial Governance Training Program, known as “Rivers of Knowledge,” which WWF and Forest Trends founded. “Rivers of Knowledge” secured its implementation in the Amazonian regions of four countries. At its core are key elements including: “organizing several meetings among diverse groups;… a focus on gender;” and “a context analysis.” Bringing together members of many Indigenous communities, the program’s facilitators offer training responsive to each individual and community’s context, goals and challenges. Participants have gone on to take an active role in creating or improving governance practices at local and national levels by, for example, creating territorial committees, facilitating conflict resolution and litigating against territorial invaders. EGIDA features similar characteristics of “Rivers of Knowledge,” with a multi-faceted vision that includes serving as “a transforming agent in the training of indigenous leaders, generators and disseminators of traditional knowledge,” according to its website.
EGIDA and Sustainable Development
The coordinated partnership between USAID, WWF and AIDESEP to implement, fund and promote EGIDA falls under USAID’s five-year Indigenous Amazon Rights and Resources (AIRR) project. Now in its fourth year, AIRR aims “to empower indigenous peoples to better exercise their rights in the face of large-scale infrastructure development and extractive activities that may affect their livelihoods.”
The project’s objectives are in line with nearly all of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The benefits of supporting Indigenous leaders as a means of promoting sustainable development are multi-faceted. For example, SDG 4, “Quality Education,” SDG 10, “Reduced Inequalities,” SDG 11, “Sustainable Cities and Communities,” and SDG 16, “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions,” could be all of the outcomes that AIRR and EGIDA support
One of the most integral qualities of both AIRR and EGIDA is their celebration of the multiplicity of Indigenous cultures and languages. This focus on securing rights and economic empowerment, while also honoring Indigenous ways of living and knowing, is a powerful model of sustainable and culturally-reflective development.
Institutions like EGIDA are thus working from the ground up to ensure the meeting of the full array of SDGs not only at the global scale but also its maintenance over time, and implementation by empowered Indigenous leaders and community members.
– Hannah Carrigan