Prior Consultation with Indigenous Groups
Colombia’s Constitution grants Indigenous groups the right to “Free Prior Informed Consultation” or Consulta Previa (PC) before any project is considered near Indigenous land. These communities can be found throughout the country, and there are a number of Indigenous groups and several Afro-Colombian groups in the Putumayo near Gran Tierra’s operations. With its increased exploration and development activities in the Putumayo, many of which interact with these protected communities, GTE has created a department focused solely on the Prior Consultation process.
PC represents a formal process for establishing dialogue between ethnic communities and the company to ensure they are adequately informed and consulted about company activities; how these activities might interact with and/or impact them; and how any impacts will be mitigated, compensated or prevented. GTE, like other companies in Colombia that participate in the PC process, works with Colombia’s Ministry of the Interior, which follows the formal process and ensures that someone from the ministry or local government are present during each community interaction.
The company has several programs designed to support the Indigenous and Afro-descendant population through socio-cultural, social infrastructure and development projects. The company has also built four ancestral cultural centres for community meetings and activities in order to strengthen the traditions of the Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities of Orconepul, Alto Orito, Afro Council of Puerto Limón and Martin Luther King.
Activities conducted by GTE to support Indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups in Puerto Limón, Villagarzón and Piamonte include support for community-interest projects, cultural celebrations, secondary education and training in Afro-Colombian music for children.
“Our culture and our customs are key to our identity – food, dress, drink, language. All Indigenous cultures worldwide are being influenced by development and languages get lost. We have to start preserving and keeping our customs. And as you lose these traditional things your well-being disappears. Companies think of development as something they can bring, and sometimes, because we have needs, we accept without thinking about how they can also change us in ways we are not prepared for. We understand GTE is not responsible for everything, and the government has a role to play, but we want to keep working with Gran Tierra. The company has good people working for them, and they are responsive and want to get close to our community while it often seems that other companies think we are below them. Between the pre-consultation process, compensation and other programs, GTE has been very helpful. Now we want GTE to come to us and have a better understanding of how we can work even better together for the future. We want to strengthen our life plan and our culture. To us, that is to be rich. So for us, what’s important is the quality of the projects, which have to be based on our culture. We are looking for help with strengthening our communities in the education and health sectors, self-governance and values – that’s where we want support.”IRMA ALICIA MOJOMBOY JOJOA, Inga Tribe
Advancing Prior Consultation During the Pandemic
In 2020, GTE was the first oil and gas producer in Colombia to receive permission to reactivate a Prior Consultation after all were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To accomplish this, Gran Tierra relied on its strong relationships and trust with the community, strict health protocols and coordination with the relevant institutions.
In 2019, Gran Tierra Energy started 16 new prior consultations and concluded 8 with ethnic communities near its operations. Over the course of the last four years the company has successfully concluded 86% of all prior consultations undertaken. The majority of active prior consultations are located in the Putumayo Department near the municipalities of Orito, Villagarzón and Puerto Asís.
Engaging with Indigenous Communities
Gran Tierra follows all laws and regulations stipulated by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) Guiding Principles and Colombian Law. At the heart of GTE’s success building strong relationships is something very simple: respect for and understanding of the communities that it interacts with.
Gran Tierra and the Cabildo Tordua Kidua, from the Embera Chamí ethnic group, a small Indigenous community near Puerto Asís in Putumayo, had begun a Prior Consultation before it was paused due to the arrival of COVID-19 in Colombia. To restart the process, GTE and the 28-member community agreed on rigorous health and spiritual protocols to protect all participants.
During the Prior Consultation, GTE learned what the community goals and vision for development were and was able to address concerns about possible disruptions to sacred burial grounds, medicinal gardens and water sources. Working together, the parties designed environmental, social and cultural management measures to address potential issues. The parties also agreed on infrastructure, conservation and development projects that would benefit the community.
“The Prior Consultation process is important to us because of our concerns about preserving our way of life and protecting our sacred areas and spirits. We’re grateful for all the effort the company has put in place to protect the community.”Edgas Aizama, Governor Cabildo Tordua Kidua, of the Embera Chamí ethnic
“You often hear the oil companies are here to ruin your land, and at first we didn’t want to get to know GTE. However, when we got closer I realized they weren’t like the other companies. From working with us on protecting cultural artifacts, supporting us in our ceremonies and cultural events, it was nice that somebody finally came here to do something for us. For that we are grateful.”NANCY LORENA MADROÑERO YAIGUAJE, Governor, Cabildo Nuevo Amancer de Puerto Asís
Protecting Colombia’s Archaeological Heritage
As an operator in a country with significant archaeological potential, Gran Tierra implements Colombia’s Preventive Archaeology Program in all of our projects. This allows the company to identify and plan for the specific archaeological characteristics of the areas where the company wants to build new civil works or infrastructure. In turn, this helps to assure the protection, conservation and recovery of the country’s archaeological heritage.
Gran Tierra’s Environmental Management Plan, the EMP, calls for the following measures to be taken:
- Prior to the beginning of earthworks or excavation in any area that has not been disturbed earlier for the development of well pads or roads a preliminary assessment of cultural/archaeological values in the area to be disturbed will be conducted by a qualified specialist.
- If significant sites exist or are suspected, appropriate measures to protect or document these sites and recovery of any artifacts will be implemented.
- In areas of suspected high archaeological value, a local archaeologist will be employed to provide on-site support in identifying chance discoveries and developing an appropriate approach to avoiding or preserving them.
In addition, as a prerequisite to receiving an environmental license, Colombia authorities require developers to prepare a site-specific archaeological management plan.
The Suruma Museum
Gran Tierra Energy in partnership with Corpoamazonia, the Colombia Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH) and the Friends Foundation of the Art Collections of the Bank of the Republic are building a museum in Putumayo that will serve local communities as a permanent archaeological exhibition.
Located in the Centro Experimental Amazónico (CEA) the museum will be an open educational space to preserve and protect artifacts, and will present the cultural diversity and history of the Putumayo department.
The Suruma Museum project will be completed and open to the public in 2021.
All of the artifacts that will be housed in the Suruma Museum were discovered by
Gran Tierra Energy through our archaeological activities in Putumayo. These specific archaeological activities took more than four months of work and during this period of time, 25 archaeologists and 160 local field helpers excavated more than 3,300 square metres.
To date, more than 20 tons of archaeological materials have been recovered and the inventory of the recorded archaeological material is composed of ceramic fragments, lithic artifacts (two carved projectile points), complete pottery pieces, archeological features (coal and fire pits) and a goldsmith's piece.
Puerto Asís Cultural Heritage House
Out of respect for Colombia’s important cultural and archaeological heritage and at the request of the neighbouring community, Gran Tierra funded and completed in 2017 the construction of a cultural heritage house in Puerto Asís. The heritage house is a physical location that conserves and preserves archeological artifacts.