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Wampis Nation makes a stand for Indigenous autonomy at COP15

Giovanni Torre -

The Wampis Nation in Peru has faced depredations from colonialism and capitalism for hundreds of years, and have been fighting back for just as long.

The Wampis, a community of around 16,000 people living in northern Peru, manage a territory of more than 1.3 million hectares of rainforest.

Representatives of the Indigenous nation participated in the recent United Nations biodiversity conference, COP15, in Canada to make the case that Indigenous peoples are the best and most appropriate guardians of biodiversity.

Repeated raids from miners and loggers led the Wampis to establish their own government structure in 2005.

Teofilo Kukush Pati, a representative from the Wampis Nation, spoke with ZME Science while at COP15.

"We are the ones who should decide on what goes on in our territories. Instead, governments want to decide for us," he said.

"We've been living in the same place for 7,000 years. Our ancestors had their own government system, without the role of the state."

Wampis Country is covered by tropical forest, with the exception of some small agricultural plots and settlement areas.

Over the past decade their Country has been under increasing pressure from companies seeking to plunder the natural resources, without the consent of the Indigenous people.

In 2009 Wampis people took to the streets in mass protest against the companies – and against the refusal of state authorities to act.

"The state doesn't want to recognize our autonomy and continues to negotiate with mining and oil companies in our land. This has led to oil spills that have polluted our rivers," Mr Pati said.

"We have always protected the biodiversity of our land and we want to continue doing the same. 97% of our land is completely intact."

The Wampis declared their autonomy in 2005 and created a statute built on the obligations of the Peruvian state to respect the rights and autonomy of the Wampis, including the right to say no to exploitation of their land.

Mr Pati said, however, that the Peruvian government, which recently deposed left-wing president Pedro Castillo, is still refusing to recognise their autonomous declaration and making decision about their land without their input, let alone their consent.

The most recent example has been the attempts of Petroperú, the Peruvian state oil company, to exploit an oil in their Country – which the Wampis continue to oppose.

The Wampis delegates took a strong stand for Indigenous autonomy around the world at the conference.

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