Story | 07 Dec, 2023

Tradition & Conservation

The Ak’Tenamit Association on its ongoing projects for ruralIndigenous communities in protected areas of Guatemala


What is the history of your organisation?

The Ak’Tenamit Association is a grassroots Indigenous organisation focused on promoting self-determination and self-sufficiency among rural communities in the Q’eqchi’ Maya-speaking region of Guatemala. Twenty years ago, its administration was handed over to a local Indigenous board of directors and staff.

What is unique about your part of Guatemala?

Q’eqchi’ is the region of Guatemala with the greatest interaction between Indigenous communities and protected areas. It is also the region most affected by the negative impacts of climate change, resulting in the highest rates of malnutrition and child mortality due to malnutrition.

Our way of life develops a spiritual culture in relation to Mother Nature and her ancestral knowledge. We share a traditional identity associated with the ways of producing and making decisions. We transmit knowledge from generation to generation in forms of communication based on spirituality, and enjoy forms of traditional, inclusive government.

What challenges do you face in terms of nature conservation?

The main protected areas in the country were established on traditional Indigenous territories without prior, free and informed consent. This has increased poverty within the communities and generated conflicts between rural communities and administrators of these protected areas.

It is essential to create new models that involve Indigenous communities, women and youth in the management and protection of these areas. Promoting mechanisms like forest incentives and carbon sequestration can facilitate sustainable development while considering the rights, knowledge and practices of Indigenous peoples in the use and management of their communities and forests. The governing body of the country’s protected areas must recognise traditional Indigenous forms of nature conservation and their relationship with Indigenous knowledge and world views.

What have you worked on recently?

We are implementing processes to help young Indigenous women, men and adolescents to take professional actions related to biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction. We currently have residential Indigenous field schools, with 800 students learning about sustainable community development, land measurement with GPS, agroforestry value chains-


and post-harvest activities such as fair-trade markets. Graduates have found employment as resource guards in reforestation projects, and promoted economic alternatives for communities within and around protected areas. Additionally, we’ve been involved in the creation and application of inclusive public policies at local, national and international levels.

Why is your organisation a Member of IUCN?

Given the trend of expanding conservation strategies onto more land, it’s crucial to ensure that the voices, experiences and knowledge of Indigenous peoples are heard in local, national and international spaces related to nature conservation. This ensures that initiatives respect the rights of Indigenous peoples and maximise their contributions to biodiversity conservation.

AK'Tenamit image 1 Students at Ak’Tenamit’s learning centre

What are your future hopes?

We are confident that with the full implementation of the IUCN’s Global Indigenous Agenda for the Governance of Indigenous Lands, Territories, Waters, Coastal Seas and Indigenous Natural Resources, we will see a significant increase in the participation of Indigenous peoples’ organisations and communities in biodiversity conservation activities. This will be done in a way that respects cultures, world views, unique organisational forms and the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples.