How We Work

The heart of our work is the intercultural dialogue resulting from our gathering with the Kofan Traditional Authorities (shamans) and their ceremonies of traditional indigenous medicine. We first share information and brainstorm next steps. Then the Authorities hold their ceremony, obtain their collective vision, and share their decisions. This is our approval process.

A “western” organizational structure for the Kofan Traditional Authorities (the shamans) is ASMIK, U’Fama Kwipa Ateswndekhw A’Indekhw, the only Colombian organization composed solely of Kofan Traditional Authorities, apprentices, and close followers of traditional medicine. We supported its creation as did the Amazon Conservation Team. ASMIK’s president is Eleuterio Queta, follower of the curaca Luis Antonio Criollo.

Beyond ASMIK, Healing Bridges interacts with the U.S. and Colombian governments, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, U.S. based non-governmental organizations, and the general public through presentations at NGOs, educational institutions at all levels (from graduate seminars to grammar schools), and museums.

After the Traditional Authorities (shamans) asked us in 2006 to focus on the imminent threat of the Colombian Army building a base on their ancestral territory of Santa Rosa del Guamuéz, we presented a petition for precautionary measures to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in November and began our approach to the Colombian and U.S. Governments.

At the time our concern was dismissed as being uninformed, to the point of insinuation that our information was small-town gossip, until the Colombian Army’s 13th Mobile Brigade moved into the site in December 2007 and established a checkpoint and a perimeter. Members of Congress like James McGovern and Janice Schakowski expressed their concern to U.S. Embassy and Colombian government officials, and the offices of Tom Lantos, R.I.P. and Senator Leahy lent indispensable diplomatic support. Staffers like Tim Rieser and Hans Hogrefe are true friends of the Kofan people and human rights heroes in our book.

In January 2009, our work led to a four-hour debate with the then-Defense Minister (now-President) Juan Manuel Santos who was accompanied by the Colombian Ambassador to the U.S.A., Carolina Barco, and the military brass including the Head of the Colombian Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Freddy Padilla. We were grateful at the time for the good offices of the Colombian Mission Chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Susan Reichle, who provided us with her virtual accompaniment.

After this debate, Minister Santos suspended construction of the base pending impact evaluation studies. With the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development and others, we oversaw the production of these studies by the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Meanwhile our research revealed a significant Kofan land claim in Santa Rosa. With the Traditional Authorities’ consent and powers of attorney from a majority of the community, we filed suit in Bogotá in mid 2012. We filed a similar claim before the IACHR in February 2013.