This fundraiser closed 3 months ago
Foundation for the Development of the Wounaan People
The Rainforest Foundation was one of the first organizations to focus on the link between protecting the rainforest and securing the rights of indigenous peoples. Ensuring that indigenous peoples have legal titles and ownership rights over their ancestral lands and resources has proven to be extremely effective in protecting rainforests.
Background on this Project:
The Wounaan number some 8,000 people living in communities spread throughout eastern Panama, including the Darién - the largest remaining stretch of tropical forest in the country. Twelve Wounaan communities, numbering about 7,000 people and covering some 470,000 acres, have never held formal legal title to their lands.
Today, their lands are threatened by the invasions of outsiders who clear forests (often illegally!) for agriculture, cattle-raising, and other development projects. These pressures have increased in recent years, as in 2009 a new government took office in Panama that is pushing a pro-development agenda, without regard to human rights or environmental safeguards.
Despite these threats, the lands claimed by the communities include significant swaths of largely untouched rainforest, as well as some of the most intact mangrove and lowland forest ecosystems in Panama, and ecologically important rivers and estuaries.
In order to protect their natural resources, as well as their communities and their livelihoods, the Wounaan peoples need legal recognition of their land rights.
Fortunately, after years of lobbying, Panama finally passed a law in 2008 which will facilitate the demarcation of indigenous lands, followed in 2010 by a law setting out all the steps necessary for recognition of collective land rights.
Why this project is important:
If the Wounaan are able to successfully gain formal control of their lands through this new law, they will be the first indigenous area to do so, setting a precedent for other indigenous communities in the country. We see this as a critical opportunity for advancing indigenous rights, as well as environmental protection in the biologically important Darién region.
What we’re doing:
The Rainforest Foundation is working with the Wounaan to gain recognition of all 12 communities, supporting them in mounting the often difficult political and legal campaigns necessary to receive titles to their lands.
To receive their land rights the Wounann must:
1) draft a map of their collective areas;
2) obtain official certification of land tenure from governmental agencies and given through formal visits to the indigenous areas and inspection of their boundaries;
3) acquire official certification from governmental agencies describing the size and verifying the existence of their communities.
Wounaan communities have also voiced their need for a better understanding of their rights and the technicalities of the legal process.
In order to ensure their success, the Rainforest Foundation is supporting the Wounaan as they:
1) Meet with government officials to push for land inspections and completion of the necessary bureaucratic steps for land titling;
2) Host government inspections in which government officials travel to the requested areas and check the land demarcation data and maps against geographic markers, spending up to a week in the field;
3) Advocate at the national level for the protection of their lands from invasion;
4) Educate themselves through a series of workshops and seminars led by outside experts, including, Leonides Quiroz, the first Wounaan lawyer.
This is an expensive process, and the future of entire ecosystems, as well as a unique culture, is at stake. Donate today to help the Wounaan people secure their land rights and protect their rainforests!