The latest from Native Future

Wounaan National Congress 2017

Every four years Wounaan elect their national leadership. This election year, with an overwhelming majority of votes, Chenier Carpio was elected President and Diogracio Puchicama, Cacique (Chief). On April 18th, the elected Wounaan leadership and their cabinet were inaugurated during a ceremony at the University of Panama.

Read more…

Passing the staff at the inauguration of the newly elected Wounaan Cacique and President, 2017

Meet our New Volunteers!

Thank you Sara Taylor, Kendra Becenti, Jed Glosenger and Robert Mesta for your time and talents!

Our Work

Since 2004, Native Future has worked with the Wounaan of Panamá and two other Panamanian indigenous groups, Ngäbe and the Buglé, to support their education and protect their lands.

Native Education provides scholarships and educational opportunities to indigenous students and leaders.

  • It began as a Peace Corps project, in 2001, helping three Ngäbe and Buglé students go to high school.
  • Today, 120 native elementary, high school and university students are in school with our help.
  • Our university scholarships prepare students for careers which give back to their communities.
  • Scholarships reward participation and develop leadership in Wounaan, Ngäbe and Buglé community groups, such as the El Jacinto Agricultural Cooperative and the Wounaan National Congress.

Native Future Education Director with Wounaan University Students

Wounaan Land Rights helps Wounaan communities secure legal title to their lands and protect their forests. We support education and training, technical and legal assistance, communications, equipment and the work of Wounaan leaders who are advocating for their rights daily.

  • We put the first Wounaan, Leonides Quiroz, through law school. His testimony helped pass Panamá Law 72, a special procedure for collective title of native land.
  • We have helped Wounaan to digitally map their territories, and document and communicate Wounaan efforts to protect their land from ranching and illegal logging which clear cuts rainforests and steals Wounaan natural resources.
  • Today, with the support of US Forest Service International Programs, we are helping Wounaan communities to protect and restore the forest resources on which their livelihoods depend.

Deforestation of Wounaan territories. Photo by Christian Ziegler & compliments of Light Hawk, 2013.

The community of Arimae exemplifies what’s at stake. Since its founding in 1960, the community has lost almost 90% of their original territory or approximately 180,000 hectares of forest – an area half the size of Rhode Island – to cattle ranching and farmers. Today, Arimae collectively owns the remaining core of their land, and two other Wounaan communities – Puerto Lara and Caña Blanca – have received titles. Six more Wounaan territories to go!

Native Future is a non-profit organization rooted in Peace Corps service, conservation and indigenous rights, and the dedication of many volunteers. With your help we will continue to support Wounaan stewardship and protection of their forest resources, and the education of our indigenous friends.

How can you help?

Native Future Receives Grant for Wounaan Natural Resource Management

We are happy to announce a new partnership with the US Forest Service (USFS) International Programs to support up to seven Wounaan communities to assess their natural resource management needs and identify and carry out actions to protect and manage at least one non-timber forest product (NTFP). Communities will also receive technical assistance, training and materials to reforest and restore their forests.

Read more…


Native Future RPCV Challenge!

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers  – Wounaan need your help! Join with Native Future RPCVs to raise $3,000 for Wounaan Land Rights.  Joe Torres, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, former Peace Corps APCD and Acting CD in Panama, and a Native Future supporter, is challenging the RPCV community to triple his pledge of $1,000 toward the overall $25,000 goal this year and help our Wounaan friends protect their forests and future!

And we’re almost half way there!  Other dedicated Native Future RPCVs – Marsha Kellogg, Zachary McNish, Sara Archbald, Julian Dendy, Janice Jorgensen, Allen Turner – are taking up Joe’s challenge and invite you to join us!

How can I help?

  1. Thank you for your donation today and helping us meet the goal. Please write “RPCV (country, years)” in the Pay Pal note or on the memo of your check.
  2. Share this with fellow RCPVs who’d be interested in joining our community and cause!
  3. Are you interested in volunteering with us? We have many fun and interesting jobs to fit your talents and time and that help our indigenous friends in Panama.   Write to us!

What will my help do?

Since 2004, Native Future’s purpose has been to help the Wounaan people of Panama gain control over their traditional lands and therefore, their future.  Our programs bring technical and legal assistance, education and training, equipment and direct support to Wounaan communities and leadership to help them protect, restore, and sustainably develop their forest resources.  Read here for more information.

Who are we?

Native Future was born of Peace Corps Panama service in Wounaan, Ngäbe and Buglé communities, and continues to be driven by the passion and commitment of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).  Since 2004, our work has contributed to Peace Corps’s Third Goal, promoting a better understanding of the indigenous peoples we serve on the part of Americans.


Native Future RPCVs 

Joe Torres, an APCD and Acting Country Director in Panama (1999-2002) and PTO and Country Director in the Federated States of Micronesia ( 2002-2004),  and Peace Corps Volunteer (Guatemala 1980-1982, Paraguay 1983-1984) is a founding member of Native Future and aficionado of Wounaan art.

Zachary McNish, also a founding member of Native Future served in the Wounaan community of Rio Hondo (2001-2002) and continues to support their fight for collective title to their land.

Julian Dendy, a founding member of Native Future, he also served in Rio Hondo (2001 – 2002) and in the Republic of Palau (2003-2005). Currently, Julian is a GIS Research Technician in Guam.

Sara Archbald (Panama 2000 – 2002; Colombia 1966 – 1968) is Native Future’s Native Education Coordinator and raises thousands of dollars each year to help Ngäbe, Buglé and Wounaan students get an education.

Janice Jorgensen, former Peace Corps Panama Director (1997 – 2002) and Dominican Republic PCV (1966 – 1968) joined the board of Native Future in 2006 and has been an active supporter ever since.

Marsha Kellogg, current President of Native Future served in Panama (1992 – 1994) and has been working in international sustainable development ever since, and with indigenous communities.

Allen Turner, an RPCV who served in the Dominican Republic and in Thailand, is on Native Future’s Advisory Council.  Allen  currently leads the Program for Aquatic Natural Resources Improvement—also known as Paani, the USAID-funded नेपाल पानी परियोजना—in Nepal.

Join us!

Sara Archbald and Wounaan scholarship recipients

Sara Archbald and Wounaan scholarship recipients

Help us raise $25,000 for Wounaan Land Rights

Thank you for your interest and support of Native Future and the Wounaan people of Panama. Today, more than ever, we are reminded of how our local actions have global influence. Consider the indigenous representatives of the Amazon Basin who were at the climate change conference in Marrakesh last month. Like our Wounaan friends, they are fighting for the right to protect their forests –  forests that sequester megatonnes of carbon from a warming atmosphere each year – for worldwide mutual benefit.

It is undeniable that our lives – lived comfortably thousands of miles from Panama – are inextricably entwined with the survival of indigenous peoples and our planet. Given an uncertain environmental agenda ahead, we are challenging our community to raise $25,000 by year end to help us do our part in supporting Wounaan to protect their forests and way of life.

Pastures being burned out of forests in Rio Hondo & Platanares

Pastures burned out of Wounaan forests

The good news is we are already half way there!  Dedicated supporters Peter Hetz and Marianne Kuitert and Michael Smith have stepped forward following the news of our partnership with the US Forest Service International Programs and have pledged $12,500 in matching gifts. Please help us achieve our goal!

What will your donation help do?

  • Seed a Wounaan sustainable communities fund, that through small grants and loans, will build on upcoming USFS International Programs assistance to Wounaan communities to protect, reforest, restore and sustainably use their forest resources.
  • Start-up a Wounaan Christmas Bird Count which will engage Wounaan of all ages to document their avian biodiversity including in their native language, and build their capacity to host birdwatching tours on native lands in the future. 
  • It helps us provide stipends to elected Wounaan leadership, allowing them time away from jobs to organize themselves, engage with the media, and drive self-sufficiency and sustainability. Native Future is committed to working with Wounaan to develop ways they can self-generate funds, lessening their dependence on international aid.
  • It increases opportunities for Wounaan to attend university and receive professional training.

We are aware you may be accustomed to the typical fundraising call to action….”there has never been a greater need for your support”. Let me be more specific. At this writing, six Wounaan communities are still fighting for collective title to their lands. And all Wounaan are making best efforts to restore their forests and protect their native lands from continuous illegal encroachment and deforestation.

Your support will make a difference.  Thank you for your commitment to our indigenous friends and to Native Future.

Are you an RPCV? Be sure your donation is counted toward the Native Future RPCV Challenge!







Native Future Newsletter November 2016

Check out the November 2016 newsletter with all the latest updates.










Wounaan Land Rights Retreat

If you have received an invitation from us, thank you for your RSVP below, and for joining our dedicated group of Wounaan champions to help secure the survival of this unique people and their forests!

Deforestation advancing on Rio Hondo and Platanares territories. Photo by Christian Ziegler & compliments of Light Hawk, 2013.



JULY 29 – 31, 2016               34 TAYLOR ST, PORTLAND, ME

Please join Wounaan President, Chenier Carpio, the Native Future Board of Directors and other champions to spearhead a plan that will help Wounaan sustain their land and culture.

Friday, July 29, 5 pmOver food and drink, engage with our Wounaan guest and learn about their priorities for the future.

Saturday, July 30, 9 am – 3 pm – With President Carpio, the Native Future Board of Directors and Advisory Council identify potential actions and new initiatives, fundraising strategies and targets to help Wounaan meet their goals, and

Sunday, July 31, 4 – 6:30 pm – Have fun at the annual Native Education Silent Auction!


[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Yes! I will attend.’ type=’checkbox’/][contact-field label=’Yes, I can attend via videoconference.’ type=’checkbox’/][contact-field label=’I%26#039;m sorry I will miss it.’ type=’checkbox’/][contact-field label=’Comments or Questions?’ type=’textarea’/][/contact-form]

If you have linked to this post out of curiosity and would like to learn more about volunteering with our organization, please contact


Native Future Land Rights 2015 Update

We are happy to report important gains in 2015 – the verification of Majé’s boundary by the Government of Panama, and collective title of the Wounaan Emberá community of Arimae!  Read more

Your support is making a difference. In the year ahead, we will continue to carry out activities identified in Native Future’s Wounaan Land Rights program. We will continue to help Wounaan with targeted strategic communications technical assistance, and this year, with your help, Native Future will work closely with the Wounaan National Congress to carry out leadership retreats to strengthen their capacity to organize and self-govern. The Wounaan Higher Education fund also continues to prepare future Wounaan leaders and professionals, supporting Wounaan university students studying bilingual education, journalism and public administration. We would like to see it grow.

Native Future Newsletter July 2015

Wounaan Congresso February 2015

Native Future was pleased to be invited this year to the Wounaan Congreso in the village of Maach P’öbör, located an 8-hour bus ride from Panama City on the banks of the Membrillo River in the Darien. Every 2 years, Wounaan gather with elected leaders from their many communities to share accounts of recent events, while having the opportunity to express the concerns most important to each village. There is much ritual dancing, music, and sports to lighten the agenda.

The Wounaan leadership this year met new standards by producing a financial report of the Congreso and its foundation, which was shared with village leaders – transparency is important everywhere! Rising to the top of the community concern discussed at the Congreso: EDUCATION. Elementary and junior high schools in the area seem to be meeting basic needs, although more Wounaan teachers and bilingual education are needed and Wounaan want secondary and university studies for their young people to attain professional standards. Communications, legal, business, and education studies are critical for the next generation to promote their culture and protect their lands.

Read more . . .

Native Future Newsletter November 2014

Native Future Launches “Next Generation” Wounaan Land Rights Program

Wounaan land rights are at the heart of Native Future’s mission. Since 2004, Native Future has been helping Wounaan of Panama to gain control over their traditional lands. In 2008, Native Future launched the two-year Wounaan Land Tenure Project and wrote a plan in which we envisioned, …a world, ten years from now, in which Río Hondo, Platanares, and Majé-Chimán have legal title to their traditional lands, and that title is respected and enforced by Panama. We imagine these communities continuing to manage their lands in a sustainable, productive and conservation-oriented manner, just as they have done for generations.

This vision has not changed, but the challenge has become more acute. While legal progress was made per the passage of Law 72 in 2008 and two Wounaan communities received titles in 2012, Wounaan have reported more invasions of their lands and expropriation of their natural resources. Indigenous lands are often the final vestiges of intact tropical forest in Panama (besides national parks), and where the last stands of high value tropical hardwoods can be found. Wounaan forests are targets and their trees are harvested with little if any compensation to Wounaan. Logging roads are built which just makes it easy for farmers to access Wounaan territory and clear forests for pasture on which to raise cattle and grow their crops. It is one of many examples of the need for increased Native Future commitment and the Wounaan Land Rights Program.

Read more . . .