Seeking where to live in peace: indigenous people and multiculturalism under conflict

published: 2019-01-01Japanese

Photo.1 The river in a local town where some internal refugees of Embera people live. Their homeplaces locate the lower stream of this river.

The ex-president of the Colombian Republic, Juan Manuel Santos, received the Nobel Prize in 2016 during his tenure of office because he had reached a peace agreement between FARC (Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de colombiana, today became a political organization known as Fuerzas alternativas revolucionarios de colombia), and opened a path to ending more than 50 years of armed conflict. However, the realization of this agreement remains incomplete; thus, some ex-combatants of FARC have left the social reintegration program. Local media have reported on the re-arming of ex-combatants and cases of homicide against ex-combatants. Additionally, murders of local social leaders became a severe social problem after the agreement. A society at peace, which a peace agreement is supposed to actualize, has not yet come true.

Even in such a situation, people have their own live and many are obliged to live far from their homeland as internal refugees. They are victims of forced displacement, which is caused by different types of violence (temporal intensification of a battle, individual menaces, and selective killing by an armed group ruling certain areas), or the severe effect on the living environment or restriction of transportation or commerce by minefields. According to the UNHCR annual report of 2017, the number of internal refugees of Colombia is almost 7.7 million and is the largest in the world.

Forced displacement also seriously affects the lives of indigenous peoples. In 2004, the constitutional court ruled that armed conflicts arise from unconstitutional conditions of living for certain indigenous peoples “in the process of physical or cultural extinction.” Since the Colombian constitution is multicultural, different cultures must live together. However, spacial or geographical segmentation may socially fulfill such a coexistence.

Forced displacement, which equates to coercing indigenous peoples to leave their homeland, is one of the most severe causes of so-called “cultural extinction.” Such a negative evaluation of lives as internal refugees is derived from the idea that indigenous culture would be fine, as long as indigenous people could have continued to live in particular areas. Being distanced from their place of origin may endanger indigenous cultures. Accordingly, the court denounced a principle of relief for indigenous internal refugees, that is, aid for return to their land, however, the withdrawal of illegal armed groups is not a necessary condition for retuning. In Colombia, returning to a homeland could be a way of indigenous resistance, knowing indigenous peoples sometimes had returned to their home where armed groups rule.

However, among indigenous refugees of the Embera, who live in a small local city, some began to organize themselves as a victim group to realize another form of “resistance.” They do not want to settle in town or return to their homeland. They do not want to return to where they had escaped from nor keep living in danger. They hope to build a new community elsewhere and live in peace.

Photo.2 Handicrafts which Embera people in the urban area sell.

A certain number of Embera live in the capital, Bogota, some of whom are internal refugees. They live under very precarious conditions, earning daily income through begging on the road, and staying in poorly equipped temporary residences (albergue). Given such a situation, in 2017, the local government of Bogota examined this population to acquire primary data for a policy design to aid the return. At the debriefing session, which persons from the public institution attended, one of the participants commented that “Bogota city has suffered this problem (of the presence of the Embera).” While a few present disagreed, some agreed. The comment made me wonder for whom a policy of aid for return would benefit. The idea that the city should be defended from indigenous refugees now seems to be acceptable for some people in the capital. Multiculturalism being under severe conflict might lead to the emergence of a strange sense of security.

Of the Embera in a local city, the reason that they do not want to settle there is that a city is a place for discrimination or non-lethal forms of violence, which do not allow them to imagine their future there. Thus, could demanding another place be a different form of resistance, against a kind of multicultural governance of lives forced to change by violence? Given that indigenous refugees seek such a way of resistance, then, what kind of society do they live in? From my research sites, These are questions are raised.

KONDO Hiroshi

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