Times of Life and Death: Building Resilience Through Historical Memory in Colombia

Oscar Montero. Foto: ONIC
By CNMH. Originally Published by ONIC Memory “This is a very important report so that future generations in the Colombian Indigenous Movement do not have to live what we lived. I don’t want my daughter displaced and taken out of her territory by violence or because she is in a mineral-rich region,” says Óscar Montero, Kankuamo indigenous and Coordinator of the First Indigenous People National Report in Colombia. And since the Auto 004 of 2009 to date, the Constitutional Court has documented the risk of physical and cultural extinction that at least 39 indigenous peoples face. “We want the country to listen to other stories that have never been told,” continues Oscar in this interview about what will be the First Indigenous People National Report, an historical memory initiative by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) and the National Center for Historical Memory (CNMH). The report Coordinator talked about some topics like the information-gathering methods, some key concepts presented, and the document expectations of this report that will be made public in the second half of the year.
What can you tell us about the report? This report does not only a register of violence against our people. Those who read these texts, will see the life alternatives we have to face through the effects that certain actors have wanted to infringe upon us. These alternatives have been like our “baskets” to continue surviving. Spirituality, Minga [an indigenous tradition of cooperative and voluntary work for the common good] as an exercise of political defense, the impact through international dialogue, are just some of them. Those who the Report will find a strong and large diversity, with the Colombian Indigenous People multiple perceptions, in relation to the conflict issues and to the peace issue. The conflict helps us to become stronger, to think about ourselves more in regards to our indigenous organizational processes, and to protect our principles of territory, autonomy, and unity. Where does the Indigenous People National Report come from? The idea of building a Colombian National Historical Memory Report for the Indigenous Peoples arises from an Ethnic Snariv. Within the framework of Decree-Law 4633 of Victims of 2011, it was established that one of the functions of the CNMH was to make symbolic reparations for the Colombian Indigenous Peoples.   GRUPO DE INVESTIGACIÓN Why do you think you were selected to be one of the Report Coordinators? In the Sierra, our spiritual parents has taught us since we were children that we have a mission in this world. The towns of the Sierra have four worlds up and four down; we keep the balance of those worlds that are both positive and negative. In that sense, I believe that I have been assigned the responsibility of making this report, and of this magnitude, because I am indigenous, because I have gone through experiences that allow me to have an intercultural look, because I know the indigenous movement and because I have gone through the academy, an aspect that perhaps can contribute to making the report accessible to both indigenous peoples and the rest of Colombian society. However, I believe ONIC was primarily looking for a person who has felt and lived through the conflict. It is not the same to theorize or write from the readings and investigations than to tell it from what you have had to live. My dad was tortured and murdered in 2004. I had to assume the leadership he assumed in the Kankuamo indigenous people. In addition, I have been a victim of forced displacement three times. The Ethnic Snariv has the commitment to start looking for a way to make a report that accounts for all the individual and collective effects of the indigenous people of the country. The idea and the need to build a report of these magnitude implied being able to do it directly with the Indigenous People and with their organizations, as an exercise of building trust and, as an exercise of power since it should be the same victims who told their own memories, their own story.
In addition, the preparation of the report was conceived with a national perspective and that led us to think what we mean by national, because the dynamics and situations of the Colombian Indigenous Movement have many edges: there are 102 Nations, we are in all the territories of the country, there are differentiated affectations, and we also contemplate the violence we have received from a long-term perspective; of at least 500 years.
When it was decided in April 2017 to materialize the proposal for the construction of the Indigenous People National Report, we considered that we had to reach the territories jointly (ONIC and CNMH). The people of the Ethnic Approach supported and facilitated dialogue with communities and organizations. They were people who had the knowledge, who had worked with the people and therefore had legitimacy in the communities.
En los diálogos participaron niños, niñas y adolescentes de los pueblos indígenas. - Fotografía: ONIC How was the process of collecting information for the book? More than a collection, the memories we will share in the report are the product of some knowledge dialogues. We are a team of 15 people, including members of ONIC, hired researchers and researchers of the CNMH Ethnic Approach. The first thing we did after signing the inter-administrative agreement between ONIC and the CNMH in April 2017, was to position the Report in our roots sites, the Indigenous People. For two days we explained the report to the Mamos of the Ramalito community in the Sierra to receive their spiritual orientations. We were given a backpack that is a recorder, it is a symbol that allows us to collect those other forms of memory, beyond writing, dialogues, interviews conducted by a researcher using a recorder. With that process, we begin the dialogues of knowledge. The dialogues of knowledge were three-day spaces in which in the morning we talked about categories of resistance, origin, memory, and struggle, for example. And at night, we did an exercise of telling the cultural, but already in our own memory sites; the river, the rooted site, the sacred site, the Kankurwa, the ceremonial box, the sacred box. In those spaces they told us things about the origin, about the cultural, things that cannot be told outside or that, for the time being, can only be told in their space, at the time and sharing the ayo, the poporo, the chirrinchi [spiritual drinks in a wooden traditional cup]. The report transcended, sailed through rivers and seas, walked mountains and deserts. We want to look at how we can graph that; those experiences, colors, textures, languages, songs, fabrics. Additionally, documents of academics who have studied Indigenous People were reviewed: historians, anthropologists, sociologists.