"About 20 percent of the Amazon Basin is in indigenous territories, and most of these areas are in excellent condition. Cofán territory is still intact."
The Nature Conservancy's Western Amazon Program Manager
The Cofán indigenous peoples have lived off the land in present-day Colombia and Ecuador for untold generations. Although many archaeological sites that might give clues to their ancestral traditions did not survive Spanish colonization, the Cofán have long fought to preserve their culture while conserving their natural surroundings and resources.
Much of what the modern world knows about Cofán history is reduced to the past fifty years, when the indigenous group began an active struggle to preserve one million acres of their ancestral lands in the lush forests between the Amazon and the Andes.
Extensive oil exploration came to the region in the 1950s, and in the 1970s logging pressures also crowded into lands traditionally inhabited by the Cofán. Without title to their lands, the Cofán had no recourse to keep development out of their forests, or demand that companies clean up their oil spills and pipeline leaks.
A history of cooperation
The Conservancy, along with local partner Fundación Sobrevivencia Cofán and others, has collaborated in Ecuador since 1995 to support the Cofán by strengthening the Ecuadorian Indigenous Federation for Cofán People (FEINCE).
Through FEINCE, the Conservancy has supported Cofán initiatives for increased land access, land titles and management and community-based park monitoring.
- Restoration of traditional lands. Of their one million acres of ancestral territory, the Cofán only had legal title to 35,000 acres until 2007 when, with the support of the Conservancy and partners, the Ecuadorian government recognized the Cofán’s land titles rights over an additional 75,000 acres. The Conservancy also backed FEINCE and the Cofán in their quest to create the 135,000-acre Cofán-Bermejo Ecological Reserve.
- Increased land management. The Conservancy, FEINCE, Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment and other partners have also helped the Cofán develop co-management activities with protected areas authorities. In accordance with their vision of sustainable land-use within the reserves, they have moved forward in developing and implementing land management plans and community-based patrolling and monitoring systems.
- Cofán park rangers. With the support of the Conservancy and other international donors, the Cofán established a Cofán park ranger program to encourage community-based land patrols and monitoring. The program is now being replicated - in 2010, the Cofán association trained 17 other indigenous people from Ecuador, Peru and Colombia, to be park guards.
- Strategic positioning. We are also supporting the Cofán’s participation in the discussion of projects that will affect their territories, such as the construction of hydroelectric dams and the development of REDD projects.