Gaan Kuutu: a meeting of community leaders from Bolivia, Colombia and Suriname

Gaan Kuutu: a meeting of community leaders from Bolivia, Colombia and Suriname

06 September, 2022

A regional exchange between 26 representatives from indigenous, tribal and peasant communities in South America held in Villa de Leyva, Colombia from 7-12 August

In August 2022, an unpresented gathering occurred. This was the Gaan Kuutu [‘big event’ – in the Saamaka Maroon language], a regional exchange where 26 representatives from indigenous, tribal and peasant communities in South America had the opportunity to share first hand their experiences in how to best manage their lands. The group was completed by facilitators from the three TBI network countries and the network coordinator.

It was seen by all as a great success. As Maribel Valencia an indigenous leader from Solano Caquetá, Colombia said: “The Gaan Kuutu meeting went beyond cultural and language barriers and made us feel united in the need to thrive while taking good care of la Casa Grande [‘the big house’ – the Earth] owned by us all.”

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Photo 1:Part of the Tropenbos Suriname delegation in Villa de Leyva, Colombia

The main conclusion was that communities must design and develop their own territorial governance plans, as the only way to ensure relevance and ownership. The role of civil society is important, but secondary – to help to provide the conditions required to effectively implement these plans, and strengthen the skills local people need to do so.
The five-day Gaan Kuutu regional exchange was held in Villa de Leyva, Colombia from 7-12 August, and this allowed the open sharing of knowledge, experiences and plans on territorial governance. The event was organized by Tropenbos International, together with Tropenbos Colombia, Tropenbos Suriname, and the Bolivian Institute of Forest Research (IBIF), as part of the Working Landscape programme and the Forests for a Just Future - Green Livelihoods Alliance funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Participants played the trust game, and developed road maps that laid out their plans that would allow them to reach the territorial governance goals they had set, by 2025. Much was learned by each group, both by preparing and presenting their own road maps, and by listening to the views of others on their proposals.

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Photo 2: Saamaka youth working on their presentation

All those who attended said that the exchange motivated their reflection around the importance of trust, cooperation, communication and social organization, as constitutive and essential elements of collective action. Furthermore, the meeting made them realize the importance of leadership skills and the ability of leaders to be able to participate at different governance levels, but also the need to have more tools and skills to build trust and promote cooperation within their respective communities.

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Photo 3: Roadmap for future plans

For the Tropenbos International network members, the main lessons learned are the need to establish more alliances with community-based organizations, and to be more innovative in ways of tackling the constantly emerging political, social and economic challenges in each of the countries.
At the last day of the event, the Gaan Kuutu became a true space of exchange and feedback, with everyone sharing their stories, their difficulties and successes, also through music, dance and culture. And as the Saamaka leader, captain Stiefen Petrusi said: “We are looking forward to Gaan Kuutu 2.0!”.