The genocide committed against Indigenous groups in America has been described as a topic of the past, however, this is a practice which has not paused since the arrival of the Europeans to this territory which we today call the American continent. 

The recent government actions against indigenous populations demonstrate this, as it occurs in countries like Brazil and Colombia. At the same time, people look to claim their rights and resist through a diverse set of strategies that range from direct protest in the streets to the defense of their culture and thought via quotidian acts, pedagogical, and performative acts on Western culture.

The indigenous people of the territory referred to as Latin America face daily structural obstacles which limit their full social and economic inclusion in each of the countries in which they live.  This is not novel information, on the contrary, it contains the normalization of a social group that is excluded as a result of state actions and that justifies itself through economic structural causes that perpetuate colonial differences, now more than 200 years after the end of the colonial process.

On top of a lack of State guarantees for access to resources, there have been systematic assassinations of individuals belonging to indigenous communities, which have occurred throughout history and continue to occur in various countries of Latin America in an ever-growing count of bleeding droplets emanating from the community.  

There are multiple examples to mention: until just a few decades ago, Colombia permitted hunting indigenous people to populate their lands; in Argentina, the existence of indigenous people has been largely denied; and under the Fujimori government in Peru, illicit hysterectomies and vasectomies were conducted on the indigenous population, among many other acts of extermination which have been done in this region. 

Similarly, another way of sponsoring genocide of indigenous populations is to make them invisible; and states have minimized their existence via inaccurate census counts, by the absence of questions for self-identification, exaggerated error margins, or their very absence. Each of these are mechanisms that result in one not knowing the full extent of the number of indigenous populations, and therefore the necessary policies are not developed to respond to their needs.

This type of treatment towards indigenous peoples is framed in discourses of hate sponsored by governments or political leaders that present stigmatized information. Those discourses of hate are the corallary of epistemic violence (or epistemicides as Boaventura de Sousa has said), as the attacks and assassinations are of physical violence. 

Both kinds of violence form the basis of the “modern subjective ideal” according to the philosopher Nelson Maldonado-Torres. This means that in order to arrive at the processes of bleeding, forgetting, and inattention to the indigenous people, there has been a sustained racist and classist mental paradigm built as the ontological foundation in current societies.  That is why these types of violence can be committed by different actors that feel that they are backed by society and that they are maintaining the status quo.

An example of this have been the events in recent years against the indigenous people of Colombia that conform the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). Since 2009, via the declaration of T-25 auto 004, the Colombian Constitutional Court declared that 32 of the 102 Indigenous Peoples of the country are in danger of extinction.  Furthermore, the court stated that the State should take measures to stop this. Nonetheless, the violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples has not improved since then. 

Quite the contrary, they are among the poorest in the country, and many do not have access to basic services, health, and have low levels of nutrition according to reports from the Ministry of Health.  Furthermore, the physical violence that they are subjected to makes chilling statistics.  Between January 2016 and March 2021, more than 280 Indigenous People have been assassinated, according to data by the Institute for the Defense of Peace (Indepaz).   These assassinations have flared up following the signing of the Peace Accord, and the majority are committed in Valle del Cauca, a place disputed by different armed drug dealing groups.

The Indigenous group Nasa carrying the ONIC flag during a funeral of assassinated leaders in 2019.  Image Credit: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images.

These statistics are a genocide by droplets, but additionally, there is no State protection to the community from these acts, and in some cases, the communities indicate that the perpetrators are themselves government forces, as communicated via organizations like Dejusticia, Indepaz or international entities like Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, among others.

It is precisely this which is happening these days in Colombia.  Since the 28th of April 2021, the country has been subsumed in protests against the current government’s decisions.  In this context, ONIC has organized an indigenous minga (a meeting where tasks and activities are developed and worked on together) to make demands to State representatives for action to protect them, and a response to the assassination of Indigenous and other Social Leaders. On this occasion, the minga took over and blocked public spaces in different parts of Cali, one of the country’s cities most affected by poverty, and consequently a key focal point for the national protests.   

Among its actions, the minga disarmed police infiltrators, removed their weapons and judged them according to their customs, and turned them over to the Ombudsman and the United Nations (UN). This peaceful act was responded to by armed civil society groups, supported by groups of police officers (as has been shown by many videos shared via social media), shooting at indigenous people that were in the minga in different parts of the city. A total of nine people have been hurt by the shots; some are in grave health situations.  Of this writing, there has not yet been one prosecution, investigation, or other response from the government.

These attacks were further accompanied by shouting at the minga, “Go away Indian!” coming from people who, according to the video footage, were with and supporting the armed individuals.

What can be done to resist and not give up in the face of this genocide by droplets? Confronting these constant attacks, the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia undertake actions of direct protest and develop judicial, penal, and cultural performative actions, such as knocking down the monuments of conquerors across the country. The Misak people, who are part of ONIC, have pulled down three of them.  

The first and second were of Sebastián de Belalcazar in September 2020 in Popayán, and on the 28th of April in Cali, the third was of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the 9th of May, 2021 in Bogotá. Both individuals are considered “founders” of the capitals by much of traditional history. Their names and their acts, by contrast, were genocidal, as the Indigenous people indicate.  The tearing down of these statues comes accompanied by symbolic “judgments” in which they have been sentenced to crimes such as genocidal dispossession and land hoarding, physical and cultural disappearance, and torture. Acts that are well known in history, and meanwhile national monuments to these individuals continue to be considered. This is also what the indigenous people wish to tear down, and therein lies the radical strength of their act.

The torn down statue of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada in Bogotá.  The representatives of the Misak group which knocked it down are up on the pedestal where the statue once stood.

Knocking down these statues are acts of resilience, full of decolonizing symbolism. It is not vandalism, as some sectors of society have described it, but acts of revindication of Indigenous culture in Colombia. The Indigenous groups that lead these acts demonstrate a proposal to raise awareness in general society via disruptive acts – whether via the shock or sympathy that they generate. These acts of Indigenous resistance are simple, yet powerful.  They call attention to the way in which history is written, the position that Indigenous groups hold in society, and how different paths can be built in a country that has a deep debt in terms of recognizing the rights and diversity of Indigenous People.

Giovanna Aldana has a Ph.D. in Social Science Research from FLASCO in Mexico.  She currently has a postdoctoral position in the Institute of Anthropological Research at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). She has been a university instructor in Perú and Colombia and a social consultant for various organizations.  Her research has focused on topics related to the multiple expressions of Indigenous Resistance, and the quotidian forms of resistance, and those indirectly through culture.  Learn more about Giovanna via her LinkedIn or Academia pages.

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