Interview with Arnobia Moreno on women and indigenous land rights in Colombia

Arnobia Moreno
Camilla Capasso, Forest Peoples Programme

Interview with Arnobia Moreno on women and indigenous land rights in Colombia

Arnobia Moreno lives in the indigenous Resguardo Cañamomo Lomaprieta, one of the oldest colonial reserves in Colombia. Over the years she has played a key role in involving women in the protection and conservation of their traditional land. As part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, Arnobia told us about the importance of the Collective of Indigenous Women, which she helped creating, and her work to obtain the restitution of the original territory of the indigenous communities living in the Resguardo.

What is your name and your role within the Resguardo Cañamomo Lomaprieta?

My name is Arnobia Moreno, vice-governor of the indigenous Resguardo Cañamomo Lomaprieta and member of the Collective of Indigenous Women. My role as vice-governor is to support the defence of our indigenous territory and represent the communities living in the Resguardo on the local, national and international level. I need to make sure that there is harmony and equilibrium within our territory and that everyone is equally represented.

How was the Collective created?

The Collective of Indigenous Women was created by 15 women with the aim of organising our struggle for land rights. Women have always played a role in protecting the traditional territory of the Resguardo and fighting for land rights, but before the Collective our efforts were dispersive. The Collective made us more unified and organised. We were inspired by the teachings of our elders, who showed us the way to be strong, to be fighters, to defend our land in spite of all those who wanted to leave us behind.  Our elders taught us that we can’t be weak before the atrocities that, as women and as human rights defenders, we face. We are aware that the world is changing but we need equilibrium between the traditional teachings of our elders and the knowledge of the present world. We need both old and new.

I started the fight 24 years ago, thanks to Councillor Gabriel Antonio Campeón who realised that more women had to be involved in the fight if we wanted to win. Thanks to women like Rosita Largo, I learned how to carry on the fight for our land rights and how to teach it to future generations. I feel happy and lucky that I am part of this movement.

What was the most difficult moment for the Collective?

When the Collective was created, we had to oppose the idea that women were less capable than men. The relationship between men and women in the Resguardo has been changing. Men used to be machistas but with time they saw that we wanted to work with them and be treated as equals. Changing this mentality has been the most difficult fight for us. We also had to convince ourselves that we could do it and that we didn’t have to be scared. Now, years later, we are more than 80 women and we have organised assemblies with hundreds of women from all the communities of the Resguardo. Men support us in our fights and we all work together to claim our land back. What we would like now, is for all women in the Resguardo to be part of the Collective. We are working towards that.

What are the functions of the Collective?

Through the Collective, we have been able to demand that our rights are protected and respected. The Colombian state has never had policies and mechanisms to represent indigenous women. We had to create those spaces and show that we are part of the indigenous collectivity. Thanks to the Collective, women can now defend their territory and be part of those mechanisms at the local, departmental and national level. We have women who are part of the ONIC (National Indigenous Organization of Colombia), women who are cabildantes (town councillors), traditional doctors, guards, nurses, teachers, and custodians of the traditional seeds that our land produces. And we are working towards having a woman as governor of the Resguardo. In particular, we have been involved in recovering properties and farms controlled by foreigners and return them to the indigenous communities. It’s not always easy for women to be involved, some of them have young children and need to remain home.

Another important function of the Collective is to assist women of all ages and offer help, support and education. We talk about women’s rights, sexual rights, and we help women realise that we don’t only exist to have children and serve our husbands. We can be multiple things within the communities: we are mothers, wives, sisters but also fighters and protectors of the land. Women have a special connection with the land; we generate life just like Mother Nature. Without land, there is no life.


Update: On January 16th 2017, Arnobia Moreno was elected first woman Governor of the indigenous Resguardo Cañamomo Lomaprieta. The Resguardo commented the news on their official Facebook page: “It is a matter of pride that for the first time a woman assumes the reins of our Resguardo in the highest position within our organisational structure. Arnobia Moreno will no doubt hold such designation responsibly and in favour of our people.” 

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