Indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon have united and created the Wampis Nation – an autonomous territorial government – in order to defend their livelihood from the increasing pressure from extractive industries. Their autonomous government covers nearly an area the size of one-third of the Netherlands and more than 15,000 people are part of this one-of-a-kind initiative.
The 29th of November 2015 became a historic moment for indigenous peoples in Latin America as the representatives of 27 registered communities agreed on The Statutes of the autonomous territorial government of the Wampis Nation. This was a result of a long process that took several years and included more than 50 community meetings and 15 general assemblies before they finally could celebrate the creation of the Wampis Nation.
A response to increasing threats
The indigenous Wampis people have for thousands of years lived isolated in Peru’s rainforest, more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) and The Andes mountains between them and Peru’s capital, Lima. More than 15,000 indigenous Wampis people have been living dispersed over an area covering 1,3 million hectares and where the only routes for accessing trade and contact with the outside world are two main waterways—the Santiago and Morona rivers, or Kanus and Kankin in their mother tongue.
But since the 1960s the interaction with outsiders has increased and more recently their territory has been under siege from private companies that want to extract the precious natural resources in the area without regards to the Wampis or the environment. In 2009, the situation escalated when indigenous peoples rose up to demonstrate against outsiders accessing and violating their lands, under a set of laws facilitating access to their lands by the extractive industries. Wampis and Awajún people marched to the city of Bagua, where they blocked the main road. In the clashes that followed, at least 34 people – 24 policemen and at least 10 indigenous peoples – died in what has later become known as the “Massacre of Bagua”.
See the unique recordings from the clashes in the video below
Based on the international recognition of indigenous people’s rights
The governance of the Wampis Nation is based on The Statute, which lays out indigenous Wampis people vision for the future in all areas of life including religion, spirituality, education, language and recovery of ancestral place names.
The Statute is built strictly on the obligations of the Peruvian state to respect the rights and autonomy of indigenous peoples and nations. Amongst other principles, The Statute requires that any activity that could affect Wampis territory must secure the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the Wampis Nation. Specifically, this means that the Government of Peru cannot give out any further concessions that allow oil or mining companies to enter Wampis territory without a prior consultation process.
Andrés Noningo, 63, member of the Council of the Elders of the Wampis Nation and participant in the founding meeting explains the Wampis Nation like this to The Guardian;
“We continue being Peruvian citizens, but now we have our own Government responsible for our territory. This allows us to protect ourselves from the companies and politicians who are not capable of seeing more than gold and oil in our rivers and our forests.”
Get more information about the founding of the Wampis Nation in the video below:
Wampis Nation – a case for inspiration
While the Peruvian government still is reluctant to recognize the Wampis Nation formally, the people have strengthened their rights to the territory by speaking with one voice and refer to their rights as indigenous Wampis people.
Last year, the people of Wampis Nation won a major victory, as the Fourth Constitutional Court of Lima ruled that a private company granted permission from the Peruvian government to run assessments on the Wampis’ land could not continue their work without the approval of the Indigenous group’s government. The oil firm was forced to halt their work until they had undergone consultation with the Wampis and received their consent to continue – a process that is still waiting to start.
However, the establishment of the Wampis Nation is not an act against the Peruvian government, as the first Pamuk (president) of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis nation Mr. Wrays Pérez Ramirez said in his inaugural address
“We trust that the Peruvian state will support our initiative as it will help them to comply with their own obligations to respect the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples and nations to determine their own future. In addition, our historic decision will help them to meet their commitments to protect the Peruvian Amazon as part of its objective to address global climate change”.
Other indigenous peoples such as the Kandozi and the Chapra peoples are now considering taking similar steps in Peru.