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Kansas City / The Emberá-Chamí Community in the Putumayo

[Common News tags: Kansas City | EmberáChamí | Putumayo]

The colonization of the Putumayo dates back to the 16th century, when the Conquistadores looked for gold and quinine there. Large landowners, or encomenderos, established several settlements, using the indentured labor of the indigenous to enrich themselves. After independence, the Vatican and the Colombian government assigned Capuchin monks to take Christian civilization to the Putumayo, given that the principal objective of the Colombian government was to dissolve the communal life of the indigenous population.  In 1985, the indigenous movement achieved a change in these attitudes, and in 1991 the new Colombian Constitution codified the protection of indigenous communities. The cocaine economy began in the region in the 1970’s and attracted a great many people. Even the indigenous communities joined in this economy, out of pure necessity for income, since there was neither credit nor technical assistance available from the Colombian government for growing legal crops. The economy at the present time is a combination of carrot and stick, in which the government with the aid of the United States through Plan Colombia promotes crop substitution and applies fumigations, which destroy food crops.

This is when the Diocese of Mocoa asked CSN to consider establishing a sister community relationship with the indigenous community of Putumayo.  The Kansas City Chapter had been meeting as a “core group” for 6 years and did not yet have a sister-community.  The Embera Chamis had already come very far in their organizing and had a strong commitment to revive their ancestral language and culture, and to reclaim their territory.  They were worried about the way the coca industry is indirectly affecting them, and also about aerial fumigations, violence perpetrated by military and illegal armed groups, and the desire of multinationals to exploit the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest.

The Embera Chami believe that life is not a business and that money cannot buy their identity; it is their identity that protects them.  They have insisted that they are ready to give their lives for their territory.  In 2007, seven members of the Kansas City Chapter visited the community and returned feeling overwhelmed particularly by the destruction of their crops by aerial fumigation, which has threatened the community with starvation.

The following points were agreed upon in the meeting between the two communities: a) That the communities in the area would develop a “Plan de Vida” and thereby gather the myths and legends of the Embera that have been transmitted orally from one generation to the next; b) The communities would receive training in writing a “Plan de Vida” by a more experienced community; and c) The visitors committed to telling the story of the Embera upon their return to the U.S.  The Kansas City Chapter has kept its promise, making presentations throughout Kansas City to human rights groups, churches, radio shows, and universities.  It has also coordinated the inspiring project of translating into English the creation myth of the Embera Chami.


If you are interested in learning more about this chapter, please contact Bob Thatch.

Bob may be reached by phone at +1 (816) 333-2322 or by email at