The following letter was received by the Trust from Gonavindua Tairona in August 1997. It neatly encapsulates the relationship which exists between the two organisations, and details the financial assistance the Trust has been able to make to the Mamas. Its formal language indicates the help of a Colombian lawyer in its drafting. This is the English translation of the original Spanish.
Santa Marta, July 29, 1997.
TAYRONA HERITAGE TRUST, London, United Kingdom.
In the name of the Gonavindua Tairona Indigenous Organization of the Mamas and other traditional authorities, we the Kogi, Arhuaco and Wiwa indigenous people greet you warmly and cordially.
As you know, for more than seven years now we have counted upon your invaluable and unwavering help in the processes taking place in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. After the making of the film “From the Heart of the World”, directed and produced by Mr. Alan Ereira, and thanks to the spread of awareness about ourselves as indigenous people and our manner of understanding the world, it was clearly necessary to support the most important aspirations of the Mamas and their representative organization, Gonavindua Tairona. Because funds were obtained from the film and donations were given us by many people once they understood our way of living, the decision was made in agreement with our traditional authorities to set up the machinery to help. From this idea came the Tairona Heritage Trust.
From its beginnings, the money given has been invested according to the highest priority for the survival of we indigenous people: the restoration of our traditional territory. This restoration is based on two fundamental objectives.
To expand the possibilities for survival of our communities, which are increasing in number every day. For more than 500 years our best lands and those most suitable for farming have been taken from us. These lands are precisely those located on the lower margins of the Sierra. Their recovery allows us to bring our families down from the high mountain regions, where the rivers are born. Two things follow: our communities grow more crops, and we work on the environmental recovery of our sacred mountain.
To have access to many sacred sites where our Mamas can perform their ceremonies which revitalize the harmonious relationship between nature and humanity. Our sacred sites are where we find our ancestral books, where our young people learn our history and culture. In fact in those sacred sites that we have lost through the invasion of white people into our territory lies the salvation of our culture
In response to this overwhelming priority, the Tairona Heritage Trust has supported us with 47,552,000.oo pesos (US$ 48,000.oo). With these funds we have bought 13 farms in the Santa Clara River valley, where there is a Kogi population, and one farm in the Guachaca River valley in Wiwa territory. These purchases were made with the criteria and objectives described above.
In 1991, Colombia ratified a new Political Constitution that granted significant rights to the indigenous population. As a result of these changes, indigenous people have become protagonists in constitutional affairs. This has never happened before in the history of Colombia. This, of course, implies new challenges for us. As a result, over the last few years it has been imperative to strengthen Gonavindua Tairona, as the legitimate representative of the indigenous people of the Sierra. The Tairona Heritage Trust has supported us in this with funding in the order of 10,592,500.oo pesos (US$ 11,000.oo). This has allowed us to contract legal advisors who help in the relations between the indigenous people and the Colombian State. As indigenous people we now play a growing role in the investment of resources and we are defending and exercising the rights that we now have in the country’s legal framework.
In addition to that, the Tairona Heritage Trust has supported us in dealing with health problems with funds amounting to close to $2,000.000.oo pesos (US$ 2,000.oo). This has enabled the purchase of medicine and payment for medical attention at hospitals in the city of Santa Marta.
Because changes are still taking place in the relations between our communities and the national society, many of our leaders and traditional authorities must go to city of Santa Marta. They stay at the temporary lodgings provided by the Indian House. In addition, there are patients requiring treatment with western medicine who must stay several days or weeks in the city and are also given shelter at the House. This facility also functions as a space for dialogue with other institutions and to agree upon many actions.
To improve the conditions of the Indians who must pass the night in Santa Marta, we are requesting financial support from you in the order of 15,000,000.oo pesos (US$ 15,000.oo). This would allow for the improvement of the sleeping, bathroom and communal areas at the Indian House in Santa Marta. In reality, this project has a higher cost, approximately 40,000,000.oo pesos (US$ 40,000.oo). With funds raised at the Municipalities of Riohacha, Fundación and Santa Marta and the Ministry of the Interior with the Regional Commission for Indian Affairs, we were able to obtain the remaining funds necessary to complete this project and thereby ensure a more comfortable and healthy stay for our leaders, authorities and patients.
We hope, as has been the case in the past, to continue counting on your marvellous collaboration. As we have explained, this has helped us to confront many new challenges and has aided us in the reconstruction of our territory and the historical and cultural traditions that allow us to continue being an autonomous indigenous people.
With warm greetings,
Arregocés Conchacala Zarabata, Council Governor
Gonavindua Tairona Organization, Santa Marta, July 29, 1997.