60% of Colombian tribes at 'risk of extinction'

April 22, 2010

The Nukak are considered to be at risk by both ONIC and Colombia’s Constitutional Court. © David Hill/Survival

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At least 64 out of 102 Colombian tribes are facing ‘extinction’, says leading Indigenous organisation ONIC.

This was the conclusion of an ONIC report to mark the launch of its campaign to raise global awareness of the situation in Colombia and to save the threatened tribes from being wiped out.

ONIC’s own research found that 32 Colombian tribes face extinction, while the country’s Constitutional Court has stated that 34 tribes face a similar fate. Only two, the Nukak and the Guayabero, are considered to be at risk by both ONIC and the court, bringing the total number to 64.

According to ONIC, eighteen tribes number less than 200 people and ten less than 100. One, the Makaguaje, numbers fewer than five people.

The reasons given for this desperate situation include:

· Colombia’s internal armed conflict which has been going on for more than 50 years and ‘disproportionately’ affects the Indigenous population. Since 2002, more than 1,400 Indigenous people have been killed and an estimated 74,000 have been forcibly evicted from their homes.

· A ‘model of economic development’ that ignores Indigenous peoples’ rights to free, prior and informed consent and leaves them ‘more threatened than ever, given the developed world’s appetite for natural resources and raw materials.’ The biggest threats listed are oil, hydroelectric dams and oil palm plantations.

· ‘Poverty, neglect by the state and structural discrimination.’ The report states that Colombia’s Indigenous people are the poorest in the country, and that they lack access to adequate health care, education and basic services.

The Nukak are cited as having some of ‘the most serious’ health problems of all Colombian tribes. Since first regular contact just over twenty years ago, an estimated half of the tribe have died from respiratory problems, malaria, measles and other illnesses and infections.

ONIC’s report ends with a series of recommendations to the Colombian and international authorities, and two maps listing the 64 tribes threatened with extinction. These include the Arhuaco, Kogui, Embera Katio, Awá, Kofán, U’wa, Huitoto and Cuiva.