• Indigenous peoples in Colombia

    Indigenous peoples in Colombia

    The indigenous population in Colombia is estimated at 1,500,000 inhabitants, or 3.4 per cent of the total population. Along with many campesinos and Afro-Colombian, many indigenous peoples in the country continue to struggle with forced displacement and landlessness as a result of the long term armed conflict in Colombia.


Indigenous Peoples in Colombia

According to the 2018 Census, the Colombian Indigenous population numbers some 1,905,617 individuals who, in turn, belong to 115 different native peoples. Approximately 58.3% of this population lives in 717 collectively-owned resguardos (reserves). The same census counted 4,671,160 people (9.34% of the national total) who self-identify as black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal or Palenquero. Around 7.3% of this population lives in 178 collectively-owned territories, organised around Community Councils.

Along with many campesinos and Afro-Colombian, many Indigenous Peoples in the country continue to struggle with forced displacement and landlessness as a result of the long-term armed conflict in Colombia.

The Government of Colombia adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. The Political Constitution of 1991 recognised the fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratified ILO Convention 169.

At the national level, Indigenous Peoples are represented by two main organizations: the "Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia" (ONIC) and "Autoridades Indígenas de Colombia" (AICO).

President Santos signed a decree in 2014 that created a special regime to put into operation the administration of Indigenous Peoples' own systems in their territories until Congress issues the Organic Law of Territorial Management that will define the relations and coordination between the Indigenous Territorial Entities and the Municipalities and Departments.

There are 65 Amerindian languages spoken in the country. Of this 65, 5 have no capacity for revitalization and another 19 are in serious danger of disappearing.

Main challenges for Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples

Data from the Victims Unit show that 192,638 Indigenous People and 794,703 Afro-Colombians were affected by the war experienced in recent years. The guerrilla made life impossible for several indigenous peoples and Afro-Colombians, and massacres such as that of the Awá in Nariño and Afro-Colombians in Bojayá, mined collective territories, communities stripped of their territories and young people and children recruited are some examples of the FARC's violent acts carried out against ethnic peoples.

Almost a third of the national territory is categorised as indigenous reserves, and most of them have to face serious environmental conflicts and land grabbing due to extractive activities in the zone.

As a result of a resurgence in the internal armed conflict following the 2018 electoral success of President Iván Duque, who is opposed to the Peace Agreement, violence and the armed re- taking of many of the regions inhabited by these peoples intensi- fied during 2020. In this context, as stated by the Ombudsman’s Office, there is a conspicuous delay in implementing the Ethnic Chapter of the Peace Agreement and a clearly deteriorating humanitarian situation which, in 2020 alone, left 112 Indigenous people dead in different regions, not to mention the members of Afro-descendant communities, whose deaths are not fully differentiated in the records.

Patricia Tobón Yagarí: “Indigenous participation is a clear signal from the government to all of Colombia”


Patricia Tobón Yagarí has been Director of the Victims Unit since August 2022. This is a body that seeks to provide comprehensive assistance and reparations to the victims of Colombia's internal armed conflict. A leader of the Embera Chambí people, she is a lawyer from the University of Antioquia, a specialist in constitutional law and an advisor to various Indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations. She was the youngest member of the Truth Commission that emerged from the Peace Agreement between the Colombian State and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

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Eliel Castillo: "We have never depended on anyone outside our culture"


As part of the regional seminar Right to autonomy and indigenous justice, the leader of the Wayúu people explains how communities are affected by wind farms set up in La Guajira: from the war amongst families, to damage to vision and hearing. The Colombian Caribbean leader speaks about his people's vision of self-government, the practice of ‘palabreo’ and the link to their territory.

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Mama Luz Dary Aranda Morales: “Don’t let this moment pass us by”


Colombia's new government faces enormous challenges, but the Indigenous movement must "not let the moment pass it by" to support it, says Mama Luz Dary Aranda Morales, governor of the cabildo of the Guambia Indigenous reservation and host of the “Weaving Unity” Indigenous Peoples’ Summit, where she participated on behalf of AISO (Indigenous Authorities of the Southwest) in the summit's board of directors.

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The Indigenous World 2023: Colombia

Colombia is noted for its geographic, biological and cultural diversity. Vast coastal and Andean regions, tropical rainforests along the Pacific Coast and in the north-west Amazon, the Orinoco plains, extensive desert areas and islands are all home to 115 Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendant communities. These communities are all recognized as collective rights-holders by the Constitution and the law.

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Ethnic peoples and communities caught between the legislative and executive branches


Norman Bañol Álvarez is a congressman for the special Indigenous constituency for the 2022- 2026 term in the House of Representatives (Lower House of Colombia). Hailing from the ancestral territory of San Lorenzo, he was Senior Advisor of the Regional Indigenous Council of Caldas -CRIDEC, as well as Indigenous Governor of his territory. He is a nurse by profession, a specialist in Social Security Management, and has worked in various health agencies. He has been spokesman of the southwestern Minga Indigenous movement and founder of the MAIS party, a political group that is part of the Historical Pact headed by current President Gustavo Petro.

Photo: Leonardo Díaz Ramírez

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In the construction of autonomy, education and peace

By Diana Mendoza for Debates Indígenas

Asdrúbal Plaza Calvo is a Yanacona teacher who has been involved with the Colombian Indigenous movement for 40 years. After being a teacher for several years, he went on to become a lawyer and later obtained a doctorate in political and social sciences. From the perspective of his long professional and activist career, he highlights the importance of supporting processes of recovery of ancestral knowledge in environmental matters with the Nasa Tewalas of Valle del Cauca.

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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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