What Would Ingrid Do? War and Peace in Columbia


We must recognize that

we have hit bottom and that war dehumanizes and dehumanizes us,"what_would_ingrid_do-web.jpg

– Juan Manuel Santos,

President of Columbia

This month marks the 15th

anniversary of the kidnapping and assassination of Menominee Ingrid

Washinawatok El Issa. It also marks a new set of peace talks between

the many forces of Colombia, in particular the government and the

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Those talks are to be

held in Cuba this spring.

It is long ago, but I knew her well

and I often ask myself the question, “What would Ingrid do?” She

was a good friend and colleague of mine, as we co-chaired the

Indigenous Women’s Network together for a decade. In her life she

led an exemplary role in the Indigenous community. Also known as

Peqtaw-Metamoh (Flying Bird Woman), she served as the Chair of the

NGO Committee on the United Nations International Decade of the

World’s Indigenous Peoples and as the Executive Director of the New

York-based Fund for Four Directions.

She is also known in her death. The

FARC kidnapped Ingrid when she left the U’wa territory who were

protecting their land from Occidental Petroleum and creating an

Indigenous education system. She was kidnapped by the FARC, along

with Hawaiian activist Lahe’ena’e Gay and environmental activist

Terence Freitas and assassinated on March 4 in Venezuela.

I ask the question, “ What would

Ingrid do?” when I am vexed with our world and my own people. I

also ask that because I believe that some of Ingrid’s hopes being

actualized in peace talks. The talks scheduled for Cuba will address

the longest hemispheric war.


Huffington Post reports, “Colombia’s

internal conflict has claimed at least 220,000 lives since 1958, and

more than four of every five victims have been civilian

noncombatants. From 1996 to 2005, on average, someone was kidnapped

every eight hours in Colombia and every day someone fell victim to an

anti-personnel mine, according to a newly-issued 434-page report

entitled ‘Enough Already: Memories of War and Dignity.’”

The report documents 1,982

massacres between 1980 and 2012, attributing 1,166 to paramilitaries,

343 to rebels, 295 to government security forces and the remainder to

unknown armed groups. It estimates the number of Colombians forcibly

displaced by the conflict at 5.7 million. Just as a reference, we

U.S. taxpayers have an interest in this. The U.S. — for many years

— financed a significant amount of the Colombian military budget

and providing many weapons, as a part of its War on Drugs.

The report was produced by

the National Center of Historical Memory, which was created under a

2011 law designed to indemnify victims of the conflict and return

stolen land. The law prefaced the peace talks.

I live in a country that

spends one-third of my tax dollars on the military, so I do not

actually know how peace is found. So say that you wanted peace, how

would that work out?

The U.S. Institute for Peace

scholar Virginia Bouvier discusses the significance of this set of

peace negotiations. She first points out a very big problem: “The

distribution of wealth in Colombia is one of the worst in the world

and has become more pronounced in the last decade.” She then notes,

“The parties have agreed on a limited, five-point agenda that will

include land policies, political participation, the end of the

conflict (this would include among other things questions of

ceasefires and cessation of hostilities, security guarantees, and

addressing paramilitary violence), drug production and trafficking,

and truth and reparations for victims.”

Agrarian policy is the

first item on the agenda for the meetings, co sponsored by Norway,

Venezuela and Cuba. The order of the agenda is important. Often

parties choose to begin with the easier items in order to build

confidence and show early results. Here, the parties have agreed to

begin with the issue that is perhaps the most difficult: Who owns the


Land has been at the crux of the insurgents’ agenda from

the start and there seems to already be at least some basic agreement

between the sides on the need for structural change. Land reform or

restitution of lands, victims’ rights and reparations have been

front and center on the presidential agenda since Santos assumed


After 50 years, nothing is

simple. As Bouvier notes, “Once the cessation of hostilities occurs

and a final accord is reached, the real work of peace-building,

recovery, and reconciliation will begin.”

For the U’wa, their

struggle to keep oil out of their land continues. They are a people

who live in the cloud rainforest, a pristine territory until the

mining, oil companies and accompanying military forces come their

way. They are also a very strong people who refused to subject

themselves to the slavery of conquistadors 500 years ago and continue

this commitment.

On Feb. 24, the U’wa

issued a statement announcing “that the Magallanes gas exploration

block has been completely dismantled. Ecopetrol S.A. has removed all

the machinery that had been found there in a demonstration of respect

for our rights as an indigenous people.” Their struggle to protect

their land from other oil, mining and pipeline interests continues.

As the U’wa note in their

statement, “… there continue to be serious threats to our

territorial integrity. This includes the Caño Limón–Coveñas oil

pipeline which continues to have environmental, territorial,

spiritual and cultural impacts. It puts at risk the life of the U’wa

people in the midst of the armed conflict still being experienced in

this region of the country. As if this weren’t enough, the

government’s mining and energy policies continue expediting

environmental licenses and an accelerated process for interventions

within the Sirirí and Catleya oil blocks, found within U’wa

territory. Also, mining concessions have been issued within the U’wa

Unified Reservation in addition to the most recent mining license

approved along the sacred Cobaría River, a tributary which runs

through the heart of our titled territory.

“We reiterate our call to

the Colombian people and to the world that it is necessary to

re-evaluate the actions that threaten the life and existence of

Mother Earth. We have been one of the indigenous peoples who have

foreseen the serious consequences that have begun to manifest

themselves given indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources.”

I hope there is peace in

U’wa territory as well. War dehumanizes, peace reaffirms our

humanity. I think Ingrid would echo that.

"Sovereignty is that wafting

thread securing the components that make a society. Without that

wafting thread, you cannot make a rug. Without that wafting thread,

all you have are unjoined, isolated components of a society.

Sovereignty runs through the vertical strands and secures the entire

pattern. That is the fabric of Native Society."

– Ingrid Washinawatok El Issa

She is missed always.