Fundación Gaia Amazonas is a non-profit, non-government organization, established in Colombia by Martín von Hildebrand in 1990. It was founded with the aim of promoting the effective use of Amazon indigenous peoples’ rights to govern and conserve their territories, in accordance with international conventions and the Political Constitution of Colombia.
Martín von Hildebrand, Director of Gaia Amazonas, has dedicated a large part of his life to the indigenous cause. In the 1970s he lived with indigenous communities along the Mirití Paraná River (Amazonas), during which time he supported the communities to overcome the domination of rubber traders, to analyze the education being provided by missionaries, and to recover their traditional territories.
During the 1980s he worked from within the national government, firstly developing guidelines for indigenous education, and later making it possible for the creation of indigenous resguardos (traditional territories, collectively owned) over 18 million hectares of the Colombian Amazon. He played a central role as Colombian representative in the negotiation of the Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO Convention 169), and in defining indigenous rights that were later recognized in the 1991 Political Constitution.
Since 1990, the year when Gaia Amazonas was formally established, and within the framework of the newly defined indigenous resguardos and the new Constitution, the organization began to accompany indigenous people in the practical use and implementation of their rights.
An initial diagnostic of the region was carried out, identifying those indigenous communities wanting to work with Gaia Amazonas on exercising their rights and autonomy over their territories. In 1991, a strategy of micro-projects channeled support to small-scale, community initiatives in health, education, cultural strengthening and income-generation. The starting point for many communities was to rebuild their maloca (traditional long-house).
As from 1995, these micro-projects were linked to form regional proposals on health and education; and likewise the communities began to form local indigenous organizations, Associations of Traditional Indigenous Authorities (AATIs), duly recognized as public entities through Decree 1088 of 1988.
With the help of Gaia Amazonas, five AATIs were initially established, followed by another ten. In total 18 AATIs have been formed mainly in the departments of Amazonas, Guainía and Vaupés. Gaia Amazonas established regional offices in Leticia and Mitú, and a field center in La Pedrera, to facilitate the formation of these associations of traditional authorities, and the training and skills of their leaders in administration and planning. These AATIs were constituted as territorial entities in places where no defined structure of municipalities existed, and they became the local authorities. Agreements were reached so that government funds can be handed directly to the AATIs for them to carry out health, education and other programs.