Those involved in COAMA since its real beginnings, have shared a vision and seen it grow into a reality. In the 1980’s, the concept of returning the Amazon to its rightful owners, its traditional indigenous inhabitants, was considered a radical approach to tropical forest protection. COAMA stuck firm in its resolve that consolidation of indigenous territories (known in Colombia as resguardos) is one of the most viable strategies for the conservation of tropical forests, when inter-cultural collaboration is developed appropriately. The results of this process now speak for themselves.
The history of COAMA stems back in the period 1972-1989, when founder members played a key role in campaigning for indigenous rights to their ancestral lands. Political lobbyists included Martín von Hildebrand, in his role as Head of Indian Affairs and as government negotiator to the ILO Convention 169.
They were successful in persuading the Colombian Government, under President Virgilio Barco, to legally designate 18 million hectares of the Colombian Amazon as indigenous territories, known as resguardos, It was an unprecedented move in support of indigenous rights and the important role of forest peoples in the conservation of the world’s tropical forests, and Colombia was applauded internationally for this important step in safeguarding the future of the Amazon, the “lungs” of the world.
A network of NGOs, already working directly with indigenous communities, joined forces to make the most of this window of opportunity. Their shared vision was to accompany indigenous peoples of the Amazon in applying the Constitution and new laws. It depended on appropriate support to indigenous communities, enabling them to effectively govern their territories, based on their traditional knowledge and in accordance with the national legal framework. The NGOs took COAMA (Consolidation of the Amazon) as their banner, with Martín von Hildebrand soon stepping down from his government post in order to coordinate the program.
COAMA evolved through different phases of activity, and since 2002, with more than 12 years experience behind it, an additional objective has been included - to encourage similar processes in the Northwest Amazon, across borders with indigenous communities in Brazil and Venezuela.