Indigenous leaders in northern Colombia expelled a group of evangelical Christians from their community recently, saying the missionaries were contributing to the “physical, cultural and spiritual extermination of our ethnic group” according to a press statement.
The Wiwa community of Guajira, Colombia took steps to remove both a Pentecostal and a Jehovah’s Witnesses church by passing a resolution that regulates norms for religious practices within the Indigenous territory. Resolution 04 seeks to protect the rights of Wiwa people to cultural and ethnic diversity and autonomy.
Yeismith Armenta, a leader of the Wiwa Golkushe Tayrona Organization of the Kogul, Malayo and Arhuaco Reserve explained that they expelled the churches in order to protect their ethnic identity and cultural values.
"Our customs are being left in the past and we need to respect our vision of the universe and that our authorities continue being our guides and spiritual advisors," Armenta stated.
The Wiwa leader also asserted that the churches are affecting the young people who don't want to attend Wiwa rituals in the ceremonial sites and don't want to receive guidance from the traditional spiritual advisors known as Mamos or participate in community events.
"It is sad that there are churches in our territory that want to impose upon us a model that we have never known and that goes against our customs, but above all one must take into account that the Constitution guarantees that Indigenous Peoples can continue to live."
Another Wiwa leader, Jose Gregorio Rodriguez, noted that non-Indigenous had not respected their culture and customs in other ways as well.
"The Capuchin monks opened an orphanage nearby in the '80s where the Indigenous children were forbidden to speak their own language," Rodriguez said.
One press report from the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC), one of the largest Indigenous organizations in Colombia, asserted that the Wiwa were "tired of the fiery preaching...and being called pagans, infidels and lovers of Satan."
The Wiwa, along with many other Indigenous Peoples in the region, use coca leaves to purify the blood and help increase energy levels during the workday. The evangelicals were highly critical of this practice and others.
This is not the first time Indigenous people in Colombia have expelled evangelical Christians from their territory. According to press reports, the nearby Arhuaco community – who are related to the Wiwa – expelled the United Pentecostal Church of Colombia in 1998 for preaching against Arhuaco traditions and customs.