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Titling of the Tiwi Nunka Forest – An Important Win for Indigenous Land Rights


Strategic Area: Climate - People - Wild Places -
Content Type: Blog
Country: Ecuador -

After 21 years of fighting for their land, VICTORY for The Shuar people!


In May of this year, we announced the titling of 14,021 acres of Tiwi Nunka Forest to the Shuar Kiim Center, a Shuar community otherwise known as the El Kiim. This titling has given the El Kiim the ability to protect this territory from threats, such as mining, clearing land for cattle ranching, and other detrimental extractive activities. This is great news for the El Kiim – they have been fighting for the title to their land for 21 years!

The Shuar have been working since 2000 to create a reserve area in their ancestral territory, which is highly important to the communities’ survival. Since 2005, we have worked with 3 Shuar communities to protect their ancestral forests: Kiim, Kurintsa, Washikiat. Here at Nature and Culture, our mission is to protect indigenous cultures and the biodiverse landscapes within these territories.

The Shuar people are an indigenous population in southern Ecuador who keep strong traditions and a unique vision of language, food, myths, music, and dance. The Shuar’s deep-rooted culture gave them abilities to read seasons in the forest. This allowed them to predict the best time to hunt, when fish would spawn, and when plants would bloom. Nature is at the heart of their society and their culture is based around techniques that are sustainable and protect their resources. Their religion is even based around the forest; the sacred waterfalls are their temples for their god “Arutam”, who can appear in many forms related to the forest, such as the wind, rain, or even a jaguar. These waterfall temples are also the location where they purify the spirits of their dead. Unfortunately, the culture and traditions that the Shuar have lived by for many years are being lost.

The El Kiim resides in the Tiwi Nunka Forest where the cultures and traditions that they value rely on the forest remaining healthy. The forest provides an important source of water, food, medicine, and other resources for the 33 families within this Shuar community. “We want to protect the forests of Tiwi Nunka because they hold our last resources,” says Marta Kayuk, President of the Shuar Kiim Center. This incredibly biodiverse habitat also safeguards important species, such as the threatened mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) and the vulnerable spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

Land title resolutions were enacted by the Ministry of Environment and Water of Ecuador on May 19, 2021. Photo by Claudia Roman.

Since we began supporting them in 2005, we have helped the El Kiim’s women to recover seeds and grow traditional gardens, cultivating plants such as yucca, plantain, papachina, papaya, and sugar cane. We have also worked to educate younger girls about the diversity of seeds and traditional cultivation techniques. The teaching of these practices ensures this knowledge continues to be passed down to future generations.

In 2008, the Tiwi Nunka was given Protective Forest and Vegetation Area status by the Ministry of Environment and Water of Ecuador. However, Ecuadorian law permits mining concessions for protected forests and so this status alone did not provide adequate protection. The threats to this ecosystem were still present, and so in 2019, we got involved to provide legal and technical support to the El Kiim to gain full titling of the forest. By legally gaining title to their land, they are better prepared to protect their territory.

We celebrate the news of the Shuar Kiim Center gaining ownership of the Tiwi Nunka Forest. We will continue to work with the El Kiim and other Shuar communities to ensure their territory is protected and their culture thrives.

We are grateful to all our donors who give us the opportunity to work with these indigenous communities and if you’re interested in supporting our work with indigenous communities, please consider making a donation today!