Mar 19/98: Resolution of Consejo de Ancianos


Native Forest Network

Thursday, March 19, 1998

A Native Forest Network delegation recently returned from Nicaragua and the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) and we intend to be posting relevant information as it develops. The Resolution of the Consejo De Ancianos followed the 9th Assembly at the end of February in Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas, RAAN) where over a thousand indigenous people attended from over 300 communities. The following resolution was translated by Ed Schwartzman from Witness For Peace, Managua, at There will be a WFP update on the resolution on the WFP web page:

Council of Elders of the Atlantic Coast
Ninth General Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities

For the land, nature, life and the future

The 336 representatives of the Mayagna, Miskito, Rama indigenous peoples, ethnic communities, 10 representatives of the Honduran Moskitia, and over 1,200 leaders, visitors and observers that met in the city of Bilwi from the 20th to 26th of February in the "Juan Amos Comenius" Moravian School consider the following points:

The indigenous territory is the heritage of the peoples that live within it and therefore is an inalienable right and guarantees the preservation of our culture and identity.

This territory has been recognized by international agreements that hold up this ancestral right of ownership, under a system of communal coexistence with other cultures, respect for nature, the necessary use of its natural resources and historic inheritance for our future generations.

Historically we have been forced to defend our communal territory, and though it has never had frontiers, we have been forced to define these borders in the face of division and separation of our families due to the disintegration and repartition of states with artificial frontiers that have diminished and divided our natural resources.

In the last ten years we have made numerous efforts to peacefully legalize the status of our ancestral lands. The results have not been fruitful and, in the best of scenarios, the agreements that we have reached are not held up. Now we face the imminent risk that the Nicaraguan government will usurp our lands.

After many complaints, the National Commission for the Demarcation of Indigenous Territories of the Atlantic was formed by way of Decree 16-96 but Decree 4-97 was reformed without any consultation.

This National Commission continues to be mainly comprised of representatives of central government institutions with only a minority of indigenous representatives. This lack of representation does not comply with the agreements of the National Dialogue, in which for the first time in the history of our supposed integration, the President of the Republic committed himself to change the make-up of this commission in order to achieve parity between the government officials and indigenous representatives.

This National Commission has been inoperative, indefinitely delaying the important task of demarcation for which we have fought so long.

The indiscriminate granting concessions of our natural resources is leading to over-exploitation mainly because the state does not exercise any control over these concessions. Furthermore, the norms and regulations of concessions are never complied with, creating graft and corruption in the process.

The large scale fishing companies must respect our traditional fishing practices which have been our principal means of survival.

We, the leaders and responsible members of our communities, must necessarily take control of our natural resources in order to preserve them and use them for our own necessities. In this way we continue to preserve our culture and existence. This right to control our own property has its base in the historic Supreme Court decision which suspended the concessions granted by both the central and regional governments.

The Regional Council has not worked properly and has not responded to the numerous demands of the indigenous population. This has created a lack of direction in our territory which brings about mismanagement and abuse of our natural resources, disrespect for our organizations and traditions. All of this is leading to the deterioration of our living conditions.

We consider that the beginning of the next century must be marked by a new relationship between our communities and the state in order that we work towards a definitive resolution to the situation of our territory.

We seek peace, happiness, love, and sharing of our beliefs and possessions with those who respect us in accordance with our ancestral custom of coexistence with other cultures, peoples, and nations.

We are aware of the many problems and dramatic social and economic situation that we face. Furthermore, we realize that these problems cannot be overcome until we resolve the legal status of our territory, the management of our natural resources, and the legal framework with which to regulate and control the land and its resources.

The Council of Elders is our traditional organization worthy of respect and is legally recognized not only by our laws but by national legislation.

The General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities is the highest traditional authority which determines the destiny of our peoples and communities which have inhabited our lands since the days of our ancestors long ago.

In light of these considerations, this General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities, making use of the faculties conferred by the indigenous and ethnic communities, decrees the following:

1. All of the various resources within the historical boundaries of our territories are the heritage of the indigenous peoples and ethnic communities. These should be protected and used by our people.

2. The Executive Government of the General Assembly is hereby formed with the full powers and faculties as granted by this Assembly.

3. As an organizational mechanism, the Executive Government is empowered to incorporate members of other organizations with similar goals as an instrument for consultation and support. These could be specialists in certain areas brought together to form commissions on particular issues.

4. A system of administrative and financial control will be set up to manage the funds of this government. This entities will present the General Assembly auditing reports to guarantee proper management of its resources.

5. Any leader guilty of acts of administrative corruption will be penalized with five years imprisonment and indefinite expulsion from the indigenous movement.

6. The indigenous organization, Yatabiska, is invalidated due to its failure to function properly and its disrespect for the indigenous peoples and ethnic communities. The ex-president, Mateo Collins, must account for the financial situation and internationally funded projects before the Council of Elders.

7. Individuals who falsely represent the indigenous peoples are hereby not recognized. Only the General Assembly has the maximum authority to grant such powers of representation.

8. This General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities creates the following commissions:

A. The Commission for the Demarcation of Indigenous Territories with the principal mandate to demarcate the territory.

B. The Natural Resource Commission which will regulate the protection, conservation, enjoyment, use, and management of natural resources in all their forms.

C. The Legal Commission has the mission of defining a legal framework on which to base our self-determination as a nation and is empowered to work for the defense of our rights on the international level.

D. The Social Commission will call immediate attention to problems in the areas of health, education, labor, law enforcement, and social welfare which require an urgent solution.

The tasks of the commissions are as follows:


Determination of the historic boundaries and limits of the indigenous territory. The object of the demarcation will be to define the indigenous territory in its entirety.

Request arbitration to guarantee a fair legalization of the territory and resolution of the disputes regarding other forms of property.

Request short term assistance for the elaboration of a methodology for auto-demarcation so that the communities have direct participation in the definition, planning, execution, and evaluation of this process.

Natural Resources
A plan for the maximum utilization of the resources generated from fishing activities will be elaborated. This plan requires the organization of the communities in order to administer the funds transferred from the fishing companies.

Those activities which, as a result of the exploitation or processing of our resources, are harmful to our eco-systems and natural habitat will be halted.

Aquatic Resources
Definition of the limits between traditional and industrial fishing activities as well as the agreements necessary for the enforcement of such limits must be established. Industrial fishing will be prohibited in rivers and lakes.

Proposition of a strategy to halt the piracy in our national waters will be developed with the involvement of governmental authorities, community leaders, businesses, and international organizations.

Guarantees for the stability of companies which are currently operating on our Atlantic Coast with the goal of carrying out rational exploitation and preventing the over-exploitation will be assured.

Requests will be made to international organizations specializing in marine biology to determine the capacity of marine life extraction of our coastal waters. These organizations should also help determine the appropriate periods for banns and restrictions on the capture of endangered species. This should be carried out in conjunction with state authorities, community leaders, businesses, and the corresponding international organization. At the same time, incentives should be offered to those who comply with such norms and efforts should be made to improve the fishing fleet during fishing bans.

The Legal Commission of the General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities will proceed to elaborate the bills necessary for the ratification of these measures.

This proposal will also be presented to the international organizations to be discussed in order to coordinate the carrying out of these measures.

Immediate agreements will be made for the protection of mangroves in order to halt the deforestation of these areas and promote reforestation.

Prohibition of those means of extraction which continue to destroy marine life and endangered species will be put into effect.

Forest Resources
The timber companies will be forced to comply with their forest management plans under the communities supervision.

Formulation of a initial proposal for the management of forest resources based on an inventory and current diagnostic of their situation will be carried out.

All agreements for the exploration and exploitation of our resources will be granted only with the approval and participation of our communities.

All natural resource concessions which affect and harm the flora and fauna will be suspended, especially those which destroy the sources of our natural medicine.

A proposal to carry out an inventory of medicinal plants will be formulated with the goal of protecting these resources.

Mines and Hydrocarbons
The legal status of concessions for the exploration and exploitation of mining and hydrocarbon resources will be reviewed in coordination with the affected communities. These activities should be carried out in conjunction with the communities in order to avoid that the exploration activities are used to stimulate speculation on the international market.

Mining and hydrocarbon concessions that harm the environment and our ecosystems will be suspended.

Auditing mechanisms to monitor the exploration and exploitation concessions, the earnings derived from these, and payments made to the central and regional governments will be instituted.

Companies with natural resource concessions, governmental institutions, and international organizations must make available the studies that they have carried out regarding the capacities and potential of our territory.

Fairness to small scale mining enterprises and miners must be guaranteed and new relationships between the former and the large scale mining companies must be established.

The exploration studies and techniques used in such concessions must be approved by the affected communities in order to prevent damage to the environment and the human population.

Legal and Judicial Aspects
Immediate protection for the members of the General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities will be requested from the international human rights organizations.

A first draft of our constitution will be presented to the next general assembly. This constitution, based on indigenous principals and philosophy, will guide the future of our peoples and ethnic communities. It will hold up the values of coexistence in harmony with nature, communal ownership of property and the struggle to preserve our culture.

Social Issues
Immediate attention must be called to control the cholera epidemic in the affected indigenous communities. Measures are also required to prevent the spread to other communities.

Immediate alternatives must be sought for relocating the indigenous communities that still populate the shores of the Bambana River.

Immediate assistance must be provided to widows and orphans and especially those who have been affected by the drought and are lacking food.

Assistance must be given to the scuba divers that have suffer damage from Bend's disease and other diving related problems.

Eastern North America Resource Center
PO Box 57
Burlington, VT 05402 USA
Tel: (802) 863-0571
Fax: (802) 863-2532

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