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Pressure Placed on Wounaan to Give Up Land

Native Future has learned that demands are being placed on the Wounaan community of Majé to cede 50% of the land they are trying to title to local colonists. Over the past year, the Wounaan’s petition for land title for the communities of Rio Hondo, Platanares and Majé had progressed quite smoothly, and at the end of 2010 their application was completed and submitted to the Panamanian Government for approval, in compliance with Law 72, the Collective Lands law that was passed two years ago. Now, when their application is in its final stages of approbation – they just need to receive the approval from Panama’s Agrarian Reform department – local colonists are challenging their petition, trying to lay claim to 50% of Majé land and forests. And, to make matters worse, Wounaan leaders are being jailed for defending their land rights.

In April, the Wounaan National Cacique, Chilin Piraza and other leadership, including their legal counsel, Leonides Quiroz, attended a meeting that they thought would be a final one with the government, confirming their successful petition for title of Rio Hondo, Platanares, and Majé.

Unfortunately, when they arrived to the meeting they quickly learned that the agenda had been changed and their petition was being challenged. Their title is being challenged by another, marginalized group in Panama – Afro-Panamanians. Unfortunately, the land use history of the Afro-Panamanians of that area is not much better than those of the mestizo colonists, who slash and burn for cattle ranching. The effects of the land use habits of both colonists can be seen in the satellite photos of Majé; deforestation surrounds these Wounaan lands. More importantly, unlike some of the mestizo colonists who moved onto Majé lands many years ago, the Afro-Panamanians do not live on or farm land inside Majé’s boundaries. Their claim is based on a “future use” scenario; claiming that they should have access to this land into the future.  

At the same time, and in the process of trying to find resolution to their land tenure problem, Wounaan leaders are being accused of crimes they did not commit.  

Lands Destroyed by ColonistsThe lands in red have been destroyed by colonists.

Because of these events, the Wounaan’s effort to title the next three communities has been delayed. In addition, costs are accruing: travel to and from Majé (a roundtrip boat ride can cost up to $600!), filing paperwork with the government, communications, and the additional time taken away from work that supports their families. Native Future is helping; and we hope you will too.

We’ve already sent $5,000 to the Foundation for the Development of the Wounaan People (FUNDEPW) to help them cover costs that have accrued. However, we expect that is a drop in the bucket in the fight ahead, not only for Majé, but also for the next nine Wounaan communities who also need protection.

Two dedicated Native Future supporters, Michael Smith and Peter Hetz, are challenging us to double their donations. They will match every dollar donated up to$10,000! Our goal is to meet their match by September 1, 2011. Can you help? No donation is too small. Please complete the inserted form below and send in your donation today! We can’t emphasize enough how important it is that the Majé Wounaan petition for land title is successful. All three communities - Majé, Rio Hondo and Platanares are “tests”. If they do not succeed here, the next nine communities are in danger of the same fate. Please help!!!

You can print and mail the brochure below or go directly to our website to donate.

Matching Funds Campaign 

Message from the President

Julian Dendy, President.
Dear Friends of Native Future,

I hope this newsletter finds you well and confidently sailing the turbulent seas of our currently troubling times. As an all-volunteer organization, we at Native Future have been fortunate to bypass many of the economic issues that have beleaguered non-profit organizations around the country. 2011 has already been an interesting and fruitful year for the indigenous groups we support in Panama.

Our longtime local partner and scholarship recipient, Leonides Quiroz, successfully defended his thesis on indigenous rights. He is the first ever Wounaan university graduate and lawyer. He is currently coordinating efforts between the Rainforest Foundation and various Panamanian government agencies to move forward with the legalization of traditional Wounaan lands in 12 Wounaan communities in Eastern Panama. Apparently the government is using a Native Future produced map from 2008 as a reference for finalizing the territory boundaries of the watershed for the communities of Rio Hondo and Platanares. While the times may be troubling and uncertain, for those of you who have long supported us and the Wounaan, in particular, they are very exciting as well, as we edge ever closer to achieving our and their original and exceedingly difficult goal. We thank you for your patience, and hope you will stick with us.

Julian Dendy, President

Native Future Scholarship Fund - How Change Happens

Irene Vasquez Santos

Irene Vasquez Santos is pictured here in her orange nagua, native dress of the Ngäbe Buglé women. Her story is remarkable because of the isolated community from which she comes, a culture with little regard for women or education.

Irene became a strong 'pastora' in her evagelical church (giving women strong roles is a plus for these churches). Unlike others, however, she saw a social role in her position. With only an elementary education, she learned to sew and taught others. She saw the marketing of women's crafts as an empowerment tool for women. She began to travel to the city and interact with goverment entities to fight for her people.

One story: Irene attended a large artisan conference sponsored by the government in Panama City. The agency head spoke about all the resources that had been sent to the Ngäbe–Buglé region including classes, sewing machines and materials. Irene raised her hand and asked why, in her district, the poorest indigenous one in Panama, she had never seen a dime spent by the agency. The director replied that she'd be happy to talk to Irene after the meeting. Irene replied, "No, then it would be easy for you to brush me off. I'd like everyone present today to hear your answer." Irene got the attention of officials; various classes have been held; sewing machines and other support have arrived.

Irene moved from her distant mountain village to Buenos Aires, Veraguas, a small town that now has a paved road to the outside world but still no electricity. From there she started a women's artisan cooperative that works with 30 community groups throughout the mountainous region. She has networked with the local Catholic Church and a variety of government agencies. A small store and workshop have been built for classes and craft sales.

Native Future wanted to support the project by offering a small incentive to participating women to help them educate their children. Irene came back to us after polling the women; they wanted the scholarships for themselves, to attend the new adult education program in Buenos Aires. It costs each student $30 a semester to pay the transportation of teachers who come from outside the area. We were pleased to donate $1500 to that cause.

Irene is one of the students and hopes to get her high school diploma.

Sara Archbald, Scholarship Coordinator.

Congratulations to Leonides Quiroz

. . . who successfully defended his thesis on March 3, 2011 and graduated from the ULACEX law school with flying colors! 

Leonides Quiroz Defends his ThesisLeonides fielding questions from his thesis committee.

Wounaan friends Diogracio and Ronny were at the defense with Native Future board member Marsha Kellogg, silently cheering Leo on as he presented his thesis on the development of indigenous rights in Panama, and their practice by the Wounaan; and then proceeded to confidently answer his committee’s questions. Questions ranged from why should indigenous have rights specific to them; why does he advocate traditional justice systems on par with the Panamanian; and how are indigenous rights taken into account in free trade agreements? Leo's committee overwhelmingly approved his work and sent him on with the academic credentials to serve as the first, official, Wounaan lawyer.

Ways You Can Support the Wounaan & Ngäbe-Buglé

Donate to help protect Wounaan culture and forests and ensure Wounaan & Ngäbe-Buglé students continue their educations!  $100 sends a child to school for a year or adopts a hectare of rainforest.  Large or small, your donations will continue to make a lasting difference.  You can donate on our website by clicking here or by sending a check by mail to Native Future, 34 Taylor Street, Portland, ME, 04102.  Thank you! Buy beautiful prints, greeting cards or calendars featuring Wounaan and Ngäbe Buglé. people, nature and arts. Native Future friends Pamela Schwab and Brent Garlow donate 50% of proceeds. Click 
here to see Harmonic Content Panama gallery.

Buy @ Amazon gives Native Future up to 5% of purchases made through our website. Go to our 
Supporters page and click on the Amazon link.

Now Available! The Best Baskets in the World -The Fine Art of Panama's Wounaan and Emberá Indians by Nancy Schermer.

Own a copy of this beautiful and engaging book about the world class treasures produced in Panama by the Wounaan and Emberá.  Author, Nancy Schermer will donate 100% of profits to Native Future. You can purchase the book online from Amazon.

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