People who give to Nature & Culture believe that indigenous communities are a critical component of conservation. They are guardians of the forests they have lived in for thousands of years.
Over the past 20 years, Nature & Culture has worked with more than 60 indigenous communities who are all deeply committed to the protection of their land. With Nature & Culture’s support, these communities are empowered to use and preserve the natural resources around them that enrich their lives. We provide extensive technical and legal support that help them attain their goal of protecting their extraordinary ancestral homelands.
We work with the indigenous Achuar to protect over 200,000 acres of Amazon rainforest – “alfombra verde con rios” – a carpet of green with rivers. With an ancient culture deeply rooted in the forest, the Achuar have many traditions that speak to their spiritual relationship with nature. One is a ritual they perform at waterfalls, which the Achuar consider sacred.
The Andoa, a relatively small group of 700 indigenous people inhabiting the Ecuadorian rainforest, have been considered by many to be part of the Kichwa people of Pastaza Province. While the Andoa claim their own linguistic roots, as a people they did not receive group recognition by the Ecuadorian government until 2004. Located along the Rio Bobonaza near the village of Montalvo, the Andoa have claimed their identity in part through the distinctiveness of their pottery making.
The Ashaninka are one of South America’s largest tribes. Their homeland covers a vast region, from the Upper Juruá river in Brazil to the watersheds of the Peruvian Andes. Proud of their culture and driven by a strong sense of freedom, they have a long history of resistance, standing up to invaders since the time of the Inca empire.
The Awá are an ancestral indigenous nation residing in the north-western regions of Ecuador and the south-western regions of Colombia. With their own unique culture and language, the Awá have twenty-two legally established communities in Ecuador under the direction of the Federation of Awá Centers of Ecuador (FCAE).
The Awajun have been stewards of the rainforest for thousands of years. Now, with our support, they have obtained the legal right to manage a large swath of their ancestral territory, which includes pristine Amazon rainforest. The conservation of their land will help to preserve their traditional way of life. With nearly 250,000 acres protected to date, we are now working with the Awajun on sustainable development projects such as organic cacao and coffee.
Historically known as the “region of freedom and refuge,” Río Baudó, located in Colombia’s Chocó, is home to Afro-Colombians who descended from escaped slaves in the 19th century. With major support from Nature & Culture and other non-governmental organizations, the regional environmental agency created Delta del Río Baudó Regional Protected Area in September 2017, protecting their lands, the sea, and the humid forests.
Residing at the edge of the Cañaris forest, the Cañari are northern Peru’s last remaining group of indigenous Quechua speakers. We are working with the Cañari people to protect their home, the largest remaining western montane forest in Peru and the only humid forest ecoregion of the western Peruvian Andes. The proposed area is home to a diversity of endemic species only found in the Western Andes montane forests, including the Inca rainbow hummingbird and gray-headed anteater.
Historically, the Épera inhabited both sides of the border between Colombia and Ecuador. Due to unrest in southern Colombia, many fled across the border and sought shelter with their kin in north-west Ecuador. Today, an estimated 450 of the Épera live along the Cayapas River in Ecuador’s coastal Esmeraldas province and about 20% of them are believed to be refugees from Colombia.
Formerly known as Chiriguanos, the Guaraní people of eastern Bolivia have occupied the foothills between the high Andes, the Altiplano, and the flat plains of the Gran Chaco for hundreds of years. We’re working with the Guaraní to establish Ñembu Guasu Reserve in the endangered Chaco dry forest, home to a population that is more than 60% indigenous, Ñembu Guasu is known for its incredible wildlife, such as armadillos, giant anteaters, jaguars, howler monkeys, peccaries, and tapirs. The reserve will protect an area rapidly losing its forest, including an uncontacted tribe related to the Guaraní people.
With a population around 2.5 million, the Kichwa (or Quichua) of South American are the largest of any indigenous peoples in the Americas today. Aymara-Quichua languages (which have many spoken dialects) are collectively the most widely spoken of all indigenous languages in South America. The Quichua are also the only people to have migrated both south along the ridges and valleys of the Andes mountains and east into the rainforest of the Amazon Basin. This early divergence in their migration paths has created distinct mountain- and jungle-Quichua identity and culture.
Inhabiting the Ecuadorian Amazon, Napu runas or Amazonian Kichwas have a strong connection with the forest and the animals that live among them. They believe humans, plants, and animals all have souls and are almost regarded as equals. The souls of plants are of particular interest because the well-being of a community depends on a healthy relationship with nature.
The Saraguro are a people of the Kichwa nation most of whom live in Saraguro Canton in the Loja Province of Ecuador. They were the only indigenous group in the province to survive the Spanish conquest, and have retained their customs and way of life. They are especially known for their distinctive traditional dress, including black hats and collars of multi-stranded glass beads.
We worked alongside the indigenous Maijuna and Kichwa people for eight years on the creation of the Maijuna-Kichwa Regional Conservation Area in Peru’s northern Amazon, and played an integral role in its approval at the national level in 2015. Bigger than California’s Yosemite National Park, this vast reserve protects nearly one million acres of rainforest and its extraordinary biodiversity, as well as the Maijuna’s ancestral homeland.
The Kukama-Kukamiria people (also known as Kokama-Kokamilla) live in the Peruvian amazon. Kukama-Kukamiria is a deeply endangered language. At present, only elders speak the language in very restricted situations; that is, the majority of them have shifted to Spanish, and natural processes of language transmission have been interrupted. The Kukama-Kukamiria people are involved in Nature and Culture’s sustainable livelihood project in Loreto, harvesting aguaje and camu-camu Amazonian fruits for our partner AJE.
For eight years, we worked closely with the Maijuna to create a reserve larger than California’s Yosemite National Park. Now, the Maijuna-Kichwa Regional Conservation Area protects nearly one million acres of Amazon rainforest, as well as the Maijuna’s ancestral homeland. Numbering fewer than 590 people, the Maijuna are one of Peru’s most vulnerable groups.
We worked with the Pastos community to protect one of Colombia’s most critical ecosystems and clean water for 97,000 people. Volcán Azufral Natural Park protects Volcán Azufral (a rare lake with turquoise, sulfurous waters) and 18,600 acres of páramo grasslands, and secures clean water for people from Tuquerres and Mallama municipalities, including Pastos indigenous communities.
Peru’s Quechua minority have endured centuries of hardship but their pride and traditions persist. The Quechua people today are not a single ethnic group, but rather several indigenous groups scattered throughout South America. In Huanuco, Peru, we are working with Quechua people to establish the Carpish Cloud Forest Conservation Area.
In Ecuador, we work with the Sápara to protect their ancestral territory in the Amazon rainforest. UNESCO has deemed the Sápara nation of Ecuador an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”, due to the fact that their language and culture are in danger of disappearing. Just 200 Sápara people remain in Ecuador, and 100 in Peru, of whom only five still speak the Sápara language. Protecting their land is critical to their cultural survival.
For centuries, the indigenous Shawi have lived in Peru’s Paranapura basin. At their request, we are working with them to protect 91,000 acres of ancestral homeland – a high priority for biodiversity and an important watershed for the inhabitants of the Mayo and Paranapura river basins. These lush forests and jagged mountains hold countless undiscovered species that could yield new medical and agricultural products.
The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous people along the Ucayali River in the Amazon rainforest in Peru. Formerly two groups, the Shipibo and the Conibo, they eventually became one distinct tribe through intermarriage and communal ritual. We supported the Shipibo-Conibo people in establishing the Comunal Alto Tamaya – Abujao Regional Conservation Area in Ucayali, protecting lush rainforest in Peru.
The Shiwiar live in the eastern province of Pastaza, near the Peruvian border. Their lands are some of the most isolated and preserved in all of the Ecuadorian Amazon, and for most outsiders they are only accessible by plane. Ancestrally a mix of the Shuar, Achuar and Kichwa communities, the Shiwiar’s language, Shiwiar Chicham, means “Family with Knowledge of the Jungle.” Like the Shuar and Achuar, the Shiwiar are skilled warriors.
In Ecuador, we work with the indigenous Shuar to protect their ancestral homeland and create sustainable development projects so they can thrive culturally and economically. The Shuar culture is characterized by strong traditions and a unique vision of the universe, manifested through their language, food, myths, music, and dance.