We are helping the Wounaan and Embera people of Panama secure their rights to one million acres of their ancestral lands.
Partners: Congress of Embera and Wounaan Collective Lands; National Wounaan Congress
Why this project is important:
In 2008, Panama passed a law allowing indigenous groups to claim collective lands, which had long been a demand of the indigenous movement. In 2012, two Wounaan communities gained formal recognition of their lands through this new law. Together with the Wounaan and Embera, we’re now pushing for the remaining 20+ collective lands in the Darien to obtain titles, and for these communities to sustainably manage their lands. We see this as a critical opportunity for advancing indigenous rights, as well as environmental protection in the biologically important Darién region.
Recent data has shown that about one third of Panama is indigenous lands (recognized and claimed) and that 60% of the country’s rainforests are in these areas. These figures are even more remarkable in the Darien, which retains over 70% of forest cover – and this figure goes up to 80% in the region's four semi-autonomous large-scale indigenous areas, or comarcas. After the comarcas were recognized, however, 25 Embera and Wounaan lands in the Darien remained without any form of legal protection. These areas have been increasingly invaded by illegal colonists and cattle ranchers. Without secure title to their ancestral lands, these indigenous communities have had little ability to evict intruders and effectively protect their forests.
What we’re doing:
Over the next few years, RF-US will be working with the Embera and Wounaan to gain recognition of all of the communities which still need title in the Darién. As they gain titles, we’ll also be working with them to establish participatory land management plans, so they can sustainably manage their lands into the future. All of these efforts are underpinned by community and organizational capacity building. As a result, we hope to secure nearly 1 million acres of tropical forest, to be owned and managed by the Embera and Wounaan, who call the area home. This program is supported by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, the Rainforest Fund, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Did you know?
- More than a third of Panama is comprised of indigenous lands and territories.
- More than 60% of the rainforests of Panama are in indigenous lands.
- Panama is home to seven indigenous peoples: the Bribri, Bugle, Emberá, Kuna, Naso (or Teribe), Ngobe, and Wounaan, comprising approximately 6% of the total population.
- The Panamanian Constitution states that it “guarantees to its indigenous communities the reservation of necessary lands and collective property of the same to achieve their social and economic well-being.”
- Five semi-autonomous indigenous areas, known as comarcas, exist in Panama, though dozens of areas still remain unrecognized.These comarcas comprised of about 22.4 % of the country, a total area of 1.6 million hectares (almost 4 million acres).
- In 2008, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that Panama “recognize the rights of indigenous communities that live outside the comarcas, including the right to collective use of their ancestral lands.”
- New legislation recognizing collective indigenous lands was passed in December 2008, and enabling legislation was passed in June 2010.