The Creation of La Guardia Indígena (Indigenous Guard) in Colombia

In response to a history of violence on Colombian indigenous communities and threats to their resources such as water, an indigenous guard was legally recognized to act as a security force for them. The guard also interacts with indigenous councils.

Problems and Purpose

Indigenous people are a very specific social group in that they are citizens but do not work within the same interests or framework of ‘regular’ citizens. For some indigenous tribes, ‘regular’ citizens and state institutions are seen with contempt. These feelings have prompted some indigenous people to pursue the formation of an Indigenous Guard. The creative process of the Indigenous Guard can be conceived as a process of citizen participation, albeit within the areas of defense and security. 

Background History and Context

Colombia has suffered grave armed conflicts for more than 50 years that have left an untold number of victims among the civilian populations [2]. These events were the result of events of different proportions by various involved actors: army, guerrilla, and paramilitary. In this sense, the indigenous population is widely considered to be a great victim of this conflict, particularly since it has been attacked by all actors in the conflict [3]. The guerrillas are responsible for kidnappings of its youth in order to make them members of their group or massacre them. In addition, the paramilitary and army kills them, accusing them of supporting the guerrillas.

Moreover, the presence of the guerrillas between indigenous territories has signified not only a threat for the personal safety of indigenous peoples, but has also proceeded to threaten their environmental and financial security. The creation of drug-processing laboratories has led to the displacement of original indigenous crops through the cultivation of plants for the creation of drugs such as poppy and coca brush [2]. In addition, the operation of these laboratories has also resulted in the exploitation of water resources [2]. This ultimately affected the appropriation of water supplies in surrounding communities.

On April 14, 1998 guerrillas with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC) attacked an indigenous town belonging to the Nasa tribe. The attack left 2,200 displaced, 21 injured, and led to the death of a small girl. This situation motivated the members of all of indigenous tribes in one department in the south of Colombia, known as Cauca, to immediately start a discussion on security issues.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities 

In accordance with the Decree 2164 of 1995, the Indigenous Council "is a special public entity whose members belong to the indigenous community, which elects and recognizes it with a traditional socio-political organization. Its function is to legally represent the community, exercise this authority, and to realize activities concerning the law, its uses, customs, and internal regulation of each community" [4]. These councils partake in a complex process of relations that directly interact with the main indigenous organization, the Indigenous Regional Counsel of Cauca. It is important to note that because the indigenous population is always in close proximity and maintains a social order within which it is possible for all members of the community to know each other, the indigenous councils benefit from this in that it helps them keep in touch with all of their representatives. The indigenous councils are, officially speaking, not government organizations, but instead are citizen organizations that facilitate the grouping of distinct indigenous communities by collecting the opinions of members of its communities in order to create a general opinion and make decisions that effect them.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

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Methods and Tools Used

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What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

Even though the creation of an Indigenous Guard has signified an important change within national institutional structures, there was no need to institutionalize the indigenous guard before congress because Colombian legislation provides jurisdictional autonomy to the country’s indigenous people. Nonetheless, conversations with the presidency began in order to receive support for the initiative. 

On the other hand, the constitutional court also decided on the legality in the implementation of the indigenous guard, and through its sentence T-601/11 the court recognized the legal existence of the guard [5]. It also provided the Guard the right to negotiate with governmental departments concerning additional support and strengthening.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Since its implementation, the Indigenous Guard has provided varying results for the indigenous people. Firstly, the Guard has managed to position itself as a recognized security force inside of the indigenous territories. Accordingly, it has often been able to peacefully confront the guerrillas without the help of the army or any other security force [3]. This has led the guerrillas to view the Guard as military objects. As such, indigenous people have seen the threat on their security rise in comparison to the situation prior to the rise of the guard. On the other hand, the Indigenous Guard has been very effective in the prevention and management of assassinations and homicides stemming from other causes or other armed actors. 

Additionally, these poorly armed indigenous people have carried out effective preventive actions against kidnappings of its youth by the guerilla through rescue teams sent by the indigenous guard to guerrilla camps. Such rescue missions are propelled through protests inside of the camps by the Guard and a strong commitment to take those who were abducted by the guerrillas.

In the drug laboratory camps, the Indigenous Guard worked to dismantle installations and to dislodge the workers who operate there. This has led to repercussions by the guerrilla.

On the other hand, the creation of an Indigenous Guard has brought on some collateral results for the life and political development of the indigenous communities in the department of Cauca. First, the creation of an indigenous guard and the efforts to bring the themes of security of the indigenous groups to a national level resulted in the election of the first indigenous governor in the department of Cauca, Mr. Floro Tunubala. Additionally, further attention has been paid to indigenous actors on the national scene. The Indigenous Guard has also been awarded with innumerable awards for its effects toward peace, including a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The Indigenous Guard has received a large amount of criticisms form various sectors. First, some indigenous associations have denounced the Indigenous Guard's implementation of checkpoints on their principal roads. Second, the fact that the Guard does not use weapons has made them easy prey for illegal armed groups. In addition, the Guard has created some conflicts with other members of state security forces and with other legal institutions inside of the national order. Some members of the guard have been denounced as perpetrators of crimes in other jurisdictions.

See Also

Collaborative Governance 

Community Organizing


[1] Forero Sandoval, Eduardo Andrés. La Guardia Indígena Nasa y el Arte de la Resistencia Pacífica. Ediciones colección étnica: diálogos interculturales. Bogotá. Colombia. Mayo, 2008

[2] Watts, J. (2017, October 29). "Battle for the mother land: indigenous people of Colombia fighting for their lands" The Guardian. Retrieved from 

[3] Wyss, J. (2012, August 7). "Sticks vs. guns: The rise of Colombia’s Indigenous Guard." Miami Herald. Retrieved from 

[4] Agricultural Ministry of Colombia. 1995. Decreto 2164 de 1995. Por el cual se reglamenta parcialmente el Capítulo XIV de la Ley 160 de 1994 en lo relacionado con la dotación y titulación de tierras a las comunidades indígenas para la constitución, reestructuración, ampliación y saneamiento de los Resguardos Indígenas en el territorio nacional. Diario Oficial, December 7, 1995, Bogotá.  

[5] Corte Constitucional de la República de Colombia. Sentencia T-601/11. Tomado de

External Links

Morales Lorenzo. Funciones de ejército y policía serán reemplazados por la Guardia Indígena. Revista Semana, Diciembre de 2008. Tomado de [satire]

Consejo Regional Indigena del Cauca, Colombia. [broken link]

Morales Lorenzo. Indigenas desafían al narcotráfico. Revista Semana. 2008. Tomado de

Guardia indígena y fiscales colombianos se reunirán para hablar de justicia. Periódico Virtual. Com, Julio 31 de 2008. Tomado de [BROKEN LINK]

An Inside Look at Colombia's Indigneous Guards  

Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca