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Dispatch from Colombia's newest village

In war-torn Colombia, new villages mark a rare win for both natives and the
environment.

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Tucked into a lush river basin, 18 thatched huts form the core of this Indian village – and an unlikely bastion of a unique and fragile culture.

This newly inaugurated village in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains on Colombia's northern coast marks the latest advance in the fight to recuperate sacred and traditional lands lost to farmers, loggers, and drug-running militias.

Indeed, Kankawarwa (pronounced kan-ka-WAHR-wuh) is the result of an unusual – and sometimes uneasy – marriage of convenience.

This village on the northwestern slope of the Sierra is the sixth of 10 "barrier" villages being built by the Colombian government in a pact between President Alvaro Uribe and the joint governing council of the four different indigenous tribes that share these mountains: the Arhuaco, Kogi, Wiwa, and Kankuamo.

Once completed, the 10 villages will effectively form a new border between indigenous lands and private property owners in the foothills of the mountains. In addition to marking a significant step in the recovery of indigenous lands, the villages will also help protect the environment.

For about three years, private donors, including Conservation International, have been helping the four indigenous groups buy back almost 90,000 acres in an effort to protect the ecologically fragile midlands and highlands in an area considered by the indigenous groups to be the heart of the world.

"From here up, you are the ones in charge of protecting the environment," Mr. Uribe told the Arhuaco, Kogi, and Wiwa Indians gathered here last week for the official inauguration of the village. "You are the best cultivators of the forests, the best protectors of the water."

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