In the southwestern province of Cauca, Colombia’s Indigenous Nasa people have long had to defend their ancestral territories on from guerrilla groups, paramilitaries, and even the Colombian army. As a result, they have become targets of killings, which are dramatically on the rise.
Rebel fighters have continually tried to forcibly recruit young indigenous people into their ranks and new armed groups try to use their land to plant coca crops - to produce cocaine—or to carry out illegal gold mining, issues that have worsened since the Columbia's 2016 Peace Accord.
Confrontations between the Guard and FARC dissident rebels are one the rise as the dissidents try to take control of their territory.
An organization dedicated to resisting the presence of these groups called the Indigenous Guard (Kiwe Thegnas) was created 20 years ago. Today their struggle is greater than ever.
The particular focus of this story will be on the Indigenous Guard’s school for their children, where they are taught traditional Nasa customs, but most importantly they learn how to protect themselves and their land—marred by coca cultivation and illegal mining—from violence. The Indigenous Guard is a non-violent organization whose members do not carry weapons; They are a legal autonomous authority throughout their ancestral territories in Colombia.
In January 2022, a 14-year-old boy who was involved in one of these schools and wanted to become a member of the Indigenous Guard was shot and killed in a confrontation with FARC dissidents.
This is a story of resistance and survival in an underreported region where violence rules the lives of many of its rural inhabitants.
Our story will appear as a photo essay in The Guardian, a feature story in Al Jazeera English and as a radio piece in The World by PRX.