What We Do

Founded in 2004, the focus of Native Future’s first three years was to help the Wounaan organize themselves and develop their human resources. Our support established offices, kept phones operating, assisted leaders to attend meetings and helped the first Wounaan lawyer, Leonides Quiroz, attend law school. It also helped open the doors of the Wounaan-led and managed Foundation for the Development of the Wounaan People (FUNDEPW).

Since 2007, Native Future has provided technical and financial support to the FUNDEPW and Wounaan activities to protect and title their lands.  This support has resulted in the following advances:

2007: U.S.-based international human rights lawyer, Professor Leonardo Alvarado traveled to Rio Hondo, Platanares and Majé and found their claims to their traditional lands to be meritorious.  (Download a copy of an English executive summary here Alvarado Report – Executive Summary in English or the complete Alvarado Report in Spanish.)

2008:  With Wounaan community members, Native Future volunteers Cameron Ellis and Julian Dendy map the boundaries of Rio Hondo and Platanares.

Native Future launches the 2008 – 2009 Wounaan Land Tenure Project, the goal of which is to help Wounaan communities Rio Hondo, Platanares and Majé-Chimán gain control over their traditional lands.

Higher Education Scholar Leonides Quiroz testifies before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. (UNHRC – Concluding Remarks Panama)

Leonides testifying at IACHR hearing

Panama passes Law 72 which establishes a special procedure by which indigenous communities can secure legal recognition of their land rights and hold these rights as a community.

2009:   Native Future supports Economic & Environmental Study of Wounaan communities comparing impacts of Wounaan land use to those of colonists. Martin Heger Economic and Environmental Study

2010:  By the end of the year, applications for collective title to Rio Hondo, Platanares and Majé are ready for submission to the appropriate Panamanian authorities.

2011: Higher Education Scholar, Leonides Quiroz successfully defends his thesis graduating from Law School and becoming the first Wounaan lawyer.

2012:  Native Future volunteer, Cameron Ellis, trains a team of Wounaan to use GPS and develop maps of the boundaries of their communities, in the process mapping the Wounaan community of Cemaco.

Celebration! Two communities, Puerto Lara and Caña Blanca, receive collective titles to their land. (Eight more await government approval of their applications.)

Native Future volunteer, Allen Turner, works with the FUNDEPW to develop a communications plan.

2013: Ian Bell of Diving Bell Productions and Native Future volunteer Cameron Ellis create the short film, La Trocha, that tells the story of the stand-off between Wounaan and illegal loggers in 2012 that resulted in the death of Platanares Chief, Aquilio Opua.

2014: Native Future celebrates 10 years of partnership with Wounaan helping to secure their land rights and protect their way of life. Read more. 

On April 8th, 400 Wounaan march in Panama City to  protest for land titles, where they met with government officials and delivered a letter to the President of Panama.  

2015: Native Future is a sponsor of the 10th Wounaan National Congress in Maach P’öbör, and its traditional dance competition. The biennial gathering of Wounaan from their 17 communities and Panama’s urban areas, congresos are important exercises in Wounaan direct democracy and governance. Traditional dancing, story-telling and sports make for a fun and productive three-days!  

Professional journalism and social media training and technical assistance increases media attention to Wounaan land rights issues. Multiple events are covered by national and international press, such as the Regional Extraordinary Congress held in Majé, at which the Government of Panama promises to make inspections that will permit the land titling process to advance.  Read more about it here.   

2016: US Forest Service International Programs partners with Native Future to support Wounaan communities to assess their natural resources and protect and manage the non-timber forest products on which their livelihoods depend.  A two-year project, communities will also receive technical assistance, training and materials to help reforest their land.

Still, title has not been granted to Rio Hondo and Platanares and Maje, nor to six other Wounaan communities, and  Wounaan forests totaling half the size of Rhode Island are threatened. Even when titled, Wounaan communities must vigilantly defend their rainforests from illegal logging and colonization. The Wounaan Land Rights Program, continues to help Wounaan secure their land and forests, protecting the natural resources on which they depend.

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