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Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Natural Protected Areas

Updated: Feb 7




Indigenous Peoples in Isolation


By: Antenor Vaz, policy expert on Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact.


This text is a systematization of the information gathered for the preparation of the Regional Report: Indigenous Peoples in Isolation: Territories and Development in the Amazon and Gran Chaco, as well as the Tri-national Report on Fires. The former document was prepared by Land is Life and the latter by the International Working Group for the Protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact - GTI PIACI.


INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN ISOLATION - SOUTH AMERICA


Indigenous Peoples in Isolation (PIA) are confirmed in seven South American countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela, specifically in the Amazon biomes, the Brazilian Cerrado and the Bolivian and Paraguayan Gran Chaco.


There are 185 records of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in South America, of which 66 are confirmed and 119 are yet to be confirmed.

In the case of the 66 confirmed records of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, there are a total of 23 claims for territorial recognition, in different stages, most of them without measures.


TERRITORIES INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN ISOLATION - AMAZONIA, BRAZILIAN CERRADO AND GRAN CHACO


Our systematization includes 41 recognized territories and records of the presence of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in South America (14 of them in Natural Protected Areas). However, in the cases of Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, although the existence of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation is confirmed in some national parks, these territories are not officially recognized for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation specifically (one in Bolivia, five in Paraguay and two in Peru).


Brazil has four “Indigenous Territories” recognized exclusively for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation; isolated peoples do not share these territories with other peoples. In other countries, some reserves and/or intangible zones have been established for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, however, they are shared by different peoples.


INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN ISOLATION x NATURAL PROTECTED AREAS


From the observation and analysis of the records of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in Natural Protected Areas, we found different conceptions about the relationship between human beings, nature and environmental conservation.


The ancestral and sustainable practices of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation guarantee the “coexistence with their territories” without depredating them. Along these lines, we emphasize that the conservation movement needs to decolonize itself and realize that caring for biodiversity does not necessarily exclude the human action of Indigenous Peoples.


We emphasize that the conservation movement needs to decolonize itself and realize that caring for biodiversity does not necessarily exclude the human action of Indigenous Peoples.

Because of the lack of a legal framework for the territorial definition of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, most States use administrative figures that already exist in the environmental field. One of them is Natural Protected Areas, under different categories of conservation areas. This is the case in Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay.


In general, the acts that define the territories for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in Natural Protected Areas determine the framing of special regimes of intangibility, which leaves the design of specific territorial policies for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in the hands of these Natural Protected Areas’ directives. Very few have defined such policies and those who have have not implemented them effectively. Protection initiatives for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, with restrictions, are only known in the Tagaeri Taromenane ITTA (in Ecuador, within Yasuní NP), Chiribiquete NP and Río Puré NP (both in Colombia).


The vast majority of the 61 Natural Protected Areas in South America (23 of them in international border areas) with records of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation (confirmed and/or to be confirmed) do not have any effective protection initiative for these people.


Table I. Indigenous Peoples Isolation in Natural Protected Areas (Amazon, Cerrado and Gran Chaco – Data to 2019)

PAÍSES

NUMBER OF PIACI

TERRITORY

Bolivia

14

12.116.469,80 ha

​Brazil

21

22.326.228,70 ha

Colombia

4

5.911.025,00 ha

Ecuador

1

1.218.106,49 ha

Paraguay

7

1.625.436,00 ha

Peru

10

10.188.814,3 ha

Venezuela

4

11.730.730,0 ha

The vast majority of the 61 Natural Protected Areas in South America (23 of them in international border areas), with records of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation (confirmed and/or to be confirmed), do not have any effective protection initiative for these people.

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN ISOLATION X PROTECTION OF NATURAL PROTECTED AREAS X PUBLIC PROTECTION POLICIES


In the Amazon, the Brazilian Cerrado and the Bolivian and Paraguayan Gran Chaco, 61 Natural Protected Areas supplant the territories of several Indigenous Peoples in isolation and initial contact.


The presence of 61 registered Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in Natural Protected Areas in South America amounts to more than 65 million hectares.

Given this territorial dimension, it is necessary to reflect on the actual regulatory conditions of protection to which these Peoples are subject in these Natural Protected Areas.


The objectives and regulations for the creation of a Natural Protected Area (in its different modalities) do not comply with the protection requirements for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation. Natural Protected Areas, with rare exceptions, include activities that are incompatible with the self-determination and territorial integrity protected by the fundamental rights of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation.


Since the 1980s, civil society and indigenous organizations have led a series of protective actions for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation. This movement grew in the following decades and encouraged some South American states to define public protection policies. In 2012 and 2013, the UN/UNDRIP and the OAS/IACHR published important documents containing guidelines for the framing of public protection policies, which became a reference at the regional level.

Despite this progress in the framing of public policies for the protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, three countries do not have such policies: Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela. Bolivia has a law that protects Indigenous Nations and highly vulnerable people, which includes Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and Initial Contact (PIACI); however, this law (2013) has not yet been regulated. Ecuador announced a public policy proposal for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in 2007, but to date this proposal has not been enacted by the National Congress.


Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have specific public policies and protection bodies for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, but they are partially ineffective, as they face enormous implementation difficulties, especially with regard to field actions, which require specialized and localized human and material resources.


As a general rule, protective actions for Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and their policies are often neglected in favor of economic interests, both legal and illicit.

PROTECTED AREAS AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS


We highlight the Reports of the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz - A/71/229 (2016) and the Report of the current Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, José Francisco Calí Tzay - A/77/238 (2022) “Protected Areas and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights: The Obligations of States and International Organizations.”



Parque Nacional Yasuní Ecuador


FREGADERO AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION


It is important to underline that the protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation is part of a broader platform to guarantee human rights and environmental conservation, such as the right to self-determination, the right to adequate consultation, the right to integral and intangible protection of the territory and environmental protection legislation.


At the regional level, in South America, the guarantee of the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation has become a point of convergence for the consolidation of the defense of human rights with a focus on the territories and health of these Peoples and the preservation of the biodiversity of the biomes they inhabit.


FINAL CONSIDERATIONS


All these things considered, it is urgent to establish or maximize connections between the legislation for the protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in each country and the legislation of Natural Protected Areas. It is essential to consider the socio-environmental approach centered on the principle of self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation and their fundamental rights.

  • Conservation must focus on human rights, new conservation paradigms and the principles of protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation;

  • Self-determination of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation should be central to Natural Protected Areas;

  • The presence of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in Natural Protected Areas should be a determining factor in the planning and management of Natural Protected Areas, in accordance with the principle of territorial intangibility and other relevant norms;

  • The design of Natural Protected Areas should take into account the indigenous cosmovisions, the management, control and protection systems of traditional indigenous lands that have, in fact, protected nature for generations;

  • Persons involved in Natural Protected Areas should be trained in the protection and confirmation of the presence of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation, as well as in the vulnerabilities to which they are subject;

  • All actions carried out in Natural Protected Areas that violate the rights of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation must come to a halt;

  • The Natural Protected Areas with records of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation must be established as intangible zones for the protection of IPA territories;

  • Meetings should be promoted with government representatives responsible for Natural Protected Areas, Indigenous Organizations, and related organizations that work for the protection of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation;

  • Consistent information should be produced and disseminated on the presence of Indigenous Peoples in Isolation in Natural Protected Areas, taking into account the evidence of their existence, as well as the impacts to which they are subjected and the determinants of health and well-being in physical, psychological and material terms.




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