First Woman Cacique of the Wounaan People: Aulina Ismare Opua

September 5th marks the International Day of Indigenous Women, a day chosen to commemorate the struggle of Indigenous heroine Bartolina Sisa, who led a rebellion against colonial rule in Bolivia and was ultimately murdered in 1782. Today, we celebrate the brave leadership of Indigenous women around the world.


Earlier this year, Aulina Ismare Opua made history by becoming the first female national cacique, or chief, of the Wounaan people of Panama. She is focused on ensuring the territorial integrity of Wounaan communities by establishing collective land titles.

“As long as we protect our territory and take care of our land, we have hope for the future,” she said. “Our territory represents life, soul, and spirit... We want to use our land in a sustainable way, to protect and conserve our natural resources for future generations.”

Indigenous land rights are under threat, in Panama and around the world. The annulment of Aruza’s collective land title and the continued illegal deforestation in the communities of Majé, Rio Hondo, and Platanares underscore the urgency of the situation.

“Tomorrow is what we are taking care of today,” the Cacique continued. “If we don’t care for or protect our territory, then we cannot have hope. This is the struggle that we must endure as Indigenous people–the conservation of our land.”


Through her hard work and dedication, Cacique Aulina Ismare secured high-level talks with the Panamanian government and an end to the Indigenous-led protests that blocked the Interamerican highway in July 2022. The ongoing talks will focus on the priorities of Panama's 7 Indigenous groups, including collective land titling, an end to illegal logging, and investment in roads and public infrastructure.


Native Future celebrates the leadership of Indigenous women, Cacique Aulina Ismare in particular, and we continue to support our partners in the Wounaan National Congress and the Foundation for the Development of the Wounaan People in their fight to protect their land and their right to live peacefully on it.

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