Colombia: The Nasa Indigenous Guard
For more than 40 years the Nasa indigenous people in southwest Colombia have been caught up in the armed conflict that has raged between the Colombian army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces (or as the guerrilla group is known in its Spanish initials, the FARC) and right-wing paramilitaries. In the 1980s some Nasa people briefly formed their own armed group, Quintin Lame, to fight back. The group soon discovered that Quintin Lame was causing more problems than it was solving and demobilised.
Reunited as a community again, the tribe declared themselves 'actively neutral', rejected all forms of violence and equally criticised all actors in the conflict. The Nasa's fierce independence and neutrality has attracted harassment, kidnapping, murders and massacres of whole communities. In 2001 The Nasa decided to respond to this violence by organising the 'Indigenous Guard', a permanent, nonviolent, civil defence organisation. At present the Guard has about 6,000 active members charged with protecting communities by preventing the incursion of armed groups into the tribe's territorial reserves.
Guard members describe themselves as a humanitarian group in unarmed resistance with many distinct duties, most of them dangerous which they confront only with their courage and numbers. The Guards alert communities to armed actors in the area, recover slain bodies, act as a buffer between protesters and the police during demonstrations, and rescue kidnap victims.
The Guards’ strength resides in their lightening-fast ability to mobilise and respond to crises, their strength in numbers approach, and faith in the group’s wisdom and commitment to process.
Almost everything having to do with the Nasa community is a process and is indicative of their expansive concept of time and their belief that nothing is ever finished. In practical terms this commitment to process means that the Nasa are constantly tinkering with and re-negotiating community initiatives to meet the constantly changing situation, something they are very familiar with. They have survived colonisation by the Spanish, the country’s post-independence civil wars, the 1950s bloody period simply known as ‘La Violencia’ (The Violence); and according to the Nasa’s long view of history, this conflict one day too will end and the tribe will be better organised and prepared to future.
One tribe member summed this up by saying, ‘I support the community process because I want a better future for my daughters and grandchildren. The future is waiting for us and for them and we have to be conscious of that and get organised. You can’t sit around waiting for things to fall from the sky, you simply have to organise and make things happen.’