In November of 2015, leaders from 200 indigenous communities that integrate the Wampi tribe, gathered in a village called Soledad, inside Wampi territory in the North of Peru, to announce the creation of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation. It is the first autonomous indigenous government of it’s kind in the Amazon. It has a constitution, a parliament and executive organs.
“We are still Peruvian citizens,” declares 62-year-old Andrés Noningo, one of the visionary creators and leaders of the new government “but now we have our own government that is responsible for our territory. This permits us to protect ourselves from companies and politicians that are incapable of seeing anything but gold and petroleum in our rivers and forests”.
In 2009, the Peruvian government passed regulations which allowed companies to drill for oil on indigenous territory and was met with strong resistance from the Native People, for whom these deals were not only disastrous but in violation of their territorial rights. Natives conducted more than a year of declared opposition and advocacy to change this policy, including 65 days of civil disobedience. The government responded by declaring a state of emergency, suspending civil liberties and sending the army to violently confront the natives, which resulted in two days of bloody confrontation, with 23 police deaths, 10 civilian deaths and more than 150 wounded. This confrontation became know as Baguazo and the relationship between the Peruvian government and indigenous organizations has been at an all time low since then.
The Wampis territory is situated on the Northwestern border of Peru.
Andrés Noningo said “When the government talks about development, they are referring to the exploitation of our resources: gold, petroleum, wood… This threatens our way of life. That is why we created our own autonomous government; to guarantee that future generations live well”.
Another reason for the creation of the Wampis Nation is to preserve their indigenous knowledge and culture, which had been in decline for decades following the assimilation into modern society and western values. The Wampis cultures is heavily based around connection to nature and the forest is a sacred place. The undisturbed natural land is a holy place to commune spiritually, including through the ritualistic use of Ayahuasca.
Wampis Minister of Education, Kefren Graña. Credit: Jacob Balzani Lööv
The Wampis use Ayahuasca, Tobacco and Toé as sacred medicines that help them connect to the spirit of the forest and learn about nature. “Ayahuasca, Tobacco and Toé are our university” explains Kefren Graña, a professor for 45 years and now Minister of Education for the Wampis Nation.
Andrés Noningo explains further: “Our ancestors realized that animals spoke and the Earth moved, and they asked where did these animals come from, what was the origin of the air we breathe, who takes care of the trees, what is the origin of life? To find knowledge, our visionaries would spend up to three months alone in the jungle. They taught us that the animals and trees are people like us, and that they have guardians that protect them. In this way, our ancestors were able to teach us where the animals lived, where they reproduced, which soils were fertile and which were infertile, where to grow crops and how to hunt respectfully using our Anent, the sacred chants that guarantee that we are always treating all living beings with dignity.”
Wrays Perez, president of the Wampis Nation, during a government session.
Wrays Peréz is the president (Pamuk) of the Autonomous Government of the Wampis Nation, the congress is composed of 96 village leaders and the constitution has 40 pages detailing the rights of the people and the duties of the government regarding land administration and culture preservation.
“While Peru and other countries discussed ways of protecting the tropical forests in the Paris Climate Conference, we took a concrete step in our contribution to this global objective” declared Wrays Peréz