Panama Project Update

We were happy for good turnout for our program presentations in January and February, and for many offers of assistance. This write-up was suggested by Dianne Heidke who moderated our last informational event; this is for people who would like to contribute to our efforts or to learn more about them.

The Big River Foundation has five programs in Panama:

Big River Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 educational organization

Big River Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 educational organization

  1. Watershed Watch Expeditions – Rio Teribe – We bring university students to International Park La Amistad to assist the Naso with sustainable development projects in their watershed,  a series of tributaries connecting their 12 communities on the Rio Teribe. The Big River Foundation can bring more volunteers if their travel is sponsored. A donation of $650 sponsors one volunteer for two weeks – two months depending on the expertise of the volunteer, the resources they bring, and the nature of their project. We prefer to schedule volunteers in pairs so they are not alone in the jungle experiencing culture shock.

  2. Watershed Watch Expeditions -Rio Caldera – This is an educational program for local school children in Chiriqui. We have identified teachers willing to implement our six-week watershed curriculum in their classes. Funds are needed to pay for buses for the field trip program and lunch on a tributary of the Rio Caldera, at Finca Santuario del Volcan Baru.  The school year just started.  Every $350 sponsorship brings the program to one school. There are dozens of schools in the area. The only limiting factor is the time for Executive Director Stephen Kaczor who opens the program in week one, with a school visit, guides the class in the field all day during week five, and closes the program in week six with another school visit. The teachers run weeks two, three and four with their classes using the curricula materials we provide.

  3. Eco-Tourism Development – Bringing visitors to Volcan Baru and La Amistad provides a dynamic experience for tourists, revenue for the foundation and the tribe, and pays for Naso guides and the indigenous families who provide home stay lodging and meals.  We host arrivals in Boquete at Finca Nuevo Colorado at the edge of Volcan Baru National Park so they can summit for a view of the entire watershed including La Amistad, one of the most pristine watersheds in our hemisphere. Following this preview/overview we take them to Naso Territory upstream in a cayuca to visit the villages. Downstream options are inflatable kayaks or the tourists making their own rafts to return to El Silencio as the Naso have done for hundreds of years. We need more inflatable kayaks to increase the size of our groups to directly benefit more Naso families with more frequency. Good inflatables are $1,000.

    This story examines the need for development versus the need for conservation of watershed ecology, the priorities of consumer cultures versus the priorities of sustainable cultures.

    This story examines the need for development versus the need for conservation of watershed ecology, the priorities of consumer cultures versus the priorities of sustainable cultures.

  4. Grandmother Water is our documentary film project. We made a film short and are presently working on a feature-length documentary highlighting the evolving government in this democratic kingdom and their battle for autonomy to keep new conquistadors from damming their rivers. This will expand our educational mission globally through international distribution. Many communities across the world are fighting similar battles and each struggle enlightens the others. Travel funds are needed for cameramen and fees for professional editors. Each donation of $500 funds a filming expedition. We need to get to each of the twelve communities this year with our equipment to conduct interviews. Here is the link to our film short.

  5. Lobbying support is our final program. We cannot directly lobby Panama’s National Assembly as a foreign nonprofit. Rather, we have been funding Naso leadership and local nonprofits’ lobbying efforts. This is basically bus fare, hotel and restaurant expenses. Each donation of $100 funds a lobbying visit to Panama City. Our associates are currently seeking sponsorship for two bills, one to create the Naso Comarca (sign the petition) the other to establish a nationwide moratorium on hydroelectric development pending a comprehensive national environmental impact analysis.

Tax-deductible donations can be made via PayPal or the donate button at Great Nonprofits. However, the latter is more time consuming and expensive for us as fees are deducted and disbursements are made quarterly. The best method is to PayPal us directly using my email,

Anyone wishing to visit the Naso on our next trip, please email or follow us on Facebook for announcements. We are sincerely grateful to our supporters. Our guiding vision comes from Baba Dioum who founded the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 1968, “In the end, we consrve only what we love; we love only what we understand; and we understand only what we have been taught.” For more insights, visit our website.

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Naso Hearing, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Here is footage of last week’s Hearing of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights in Washington D.C. I live streamed this hearing on Friday.

Testimony was given about the construction of roads for the Bonyic and Chan II hydroelectric projects, Lake Bayano, the rights “universal and indivisible” of the Naso, Bri Bri & Ngäbe-Buglé peoples, legal obstacles to achieving those rights, the need for a legal process for property rights, and the barriers to indigenous access to the justice system in combating mega-developments abuse of power under administrative concessions.

Commission President Rose Marie stated that disputed documents should not be the end of the process and questioned the authenticity of corporate title where indigenous have been displaced.  The question was raised as to why action does not exist on the Naso Comarca. It was recommended that the government reach out to the Naso to get this process started. They face many barriers to organizing a formal legal petition to begin first debate in front of Panama’s National Assembly.

IACHR logo

Attending on behalf of the Naso was Osvaldo Jordán of Panama’s Alliance for Conservation and Development (ACD). He provides the following insights:

“I recommend watching the last twenty minutes in which the Commissioners refer to international standards on collective property of indigenous peoples. We believe this has been one of the most productive hearings we’ve had, forcing us to follow up on several commitments both Commissioners as representatives of the state. In particular, we are very concerned that a legal ban still exists to collective title within protected areas, which paradoxically does not extend to administrative concessions that have been taking place since 2007.”

In other words, the government can grant an international consortiums rights to cut trees in a forest reserve, use dynamite, destroy rivers, and build dams, but they cannot give autonomy to the indigenous who have acted as responsible stewards of their ancestral territory (according to UNESCO) because it is “a protected area”. This travesty of justice obviously allows developers to take indigenous lands for their own uses.

Sr. Jordán adds, “When estimating the many communities that may be contained within protected areas nationally, we have a truly worrisome problem that should make us reconsider our strategy for the protection of territories across the country. For those who may be interested, I reiterate the proposal I have been making to hold a forum to discuss the implications of the recent judgment of Bayano and the position taken by the government with respect to protected / indigenous territories.

We will meet when he returns from Washington D.C. to plan this forum.

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Naso Comarca, School, Ecotourism Updates

Leadership remains the focus of organizational meetings for Naso autonomy, the subject of public hearings before the Inter American Comission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington D.C. next week, “The Right to Property and the Right to a Healthy Environment of Indigenous Peoples in Bocas del Toro, Panama.”

Naso students returned to school last month and we’re delivering donated school supplies on our next visit. Anyone wanting to visit the Last Kingdom in the Americas can join us for an Easter Weekend Expedition. Detailed updates on these initiatives are the subject of this blog post.

Photo by Chuck Lofthouse

Naso Students at Siejik School

Naso Comarca

Naso leadership remains contested as the people will retain no leader who fails to advance a petition for the Naso Comarca. The other five indigenous groups in Panama have received Comarca status – an autonomous district. With this excellent record on indigenous rights in Panama, there is every reason to believe the National Assembly will respond positively to a formal legal petition brought by its remaining tribe existing in political limbo. Rey Alexis Santana failed to advance such a petition and is in the process of being replaced by the Naso people.

The IACHR has shared testimony stating that cultural genocide would be the result of future natural resource extraction in Naso territory. There are public hearings at their offices in Washington D.C. On Friday, March 20, at 3:15. Osvaldo Jordan of the Alianza para la Conservación y el Desarrollo (ACD) is leading a contingent of Naso for these hearings. Also represented will be the Movimiento por la Defensa de los Territorios y Ecosistemas de la Provincia de Bocas del Toro (MODETEAB), Centro de Desarrollo y Asistencia Técnica Ngobe (CEDETENG), and Organización para el Desarrollo Ecoturismo Sostenible Naso (ODESEN).

A Big River Foundation documentary film short describing the Naso’s battle against new conquistadors coveting their resources is scheduled for its first public screening in Boquete March 28th at 3:15. We’ll ask those who agree with the film’s goals to sign a petition to Panama’s National Assembly to put stewardship of the kingdom’s watershed into Naso hands. We hope to see many of you at our film screening!

Photo by Chuck Lofthouse

Big River Foundation meeting with ANAM

UNESCO has recognized the Naso’s excellent stewardship of the part of the World Heritage Site “La Amistad International Park” where they have lived for more than 1,000 years. ANAM, on the other hand, granted a concession to a Colombian-led consortium to ravage the Naso’s Rio Bonjic for a 30 MW hydroelectric project. This river is within the Palo Seco Forest Reserve which is a buffer zone between La Amistad and Bocas del Toro. The Bonjic project will come online later this year.

The Rio Bonjic feeds the Rio Teribe, the primary river in La Amistad. This river’s water is a mystical goddess to the Naso, providing everything they need, including navigation between their 12 riverside communities. If the river’s flow is lost to reservoir evaporation, or to bottling projects or other private uses, it will end the Naso way of life and one of the most intact and pristine watersheds in the hemisphere.

ANAM’s Bocas del Toro office states there are no plans for future destruction in the biosphere preserves that are Naso Territory. Yet studies for additional projects have been conducted and filed. The Naso have no confidence in ANAM, an environmental agency that destroyed forests inside a forest reserve which they have protected long before Panama existed.

School Supply Drive

The Naso have schools in half of their 12 riverside communities, each with about 30 students on average. One community, Sieykin, has requested school supplies. This is one of the communities we visit most often. Parents from the other schools need assistance as well. Having just purchased textbooks and school supplies for two daughters in Panama, we know this runs $200 per student.

Our goal is to provide half this amount per Naso student. We have placed a donation box at Mike’s Global Grill in Boquete. Naso students need the usual:  Notepads, pencils, colored pencils, sharpeners, construction paper, pens, crayons, scissors, rulers, and backpacks. Cash donations for textbooks can be made in envelopes marked “Naso Schools” via Heidi Rehm at the Global Grill. All deductions are tax-deductible in the USA as the Big River Foundation is a 501c3 educational charity.

Photo by Chuck Lofthouse

Naso Students at Siejik School

You can tour the last kingdom in the hemisphere. It is a democratic kingdom because unsatisfactory leaders can be replaced by the people, but any replacement must come from the ruling Santana family. Only two kings have been deposed in the history of this democratic monarchy, both for accepting the hydroelectric project that has damaged the Naso watershed. The favorite to lead the Naso Comarca is Maestro Santana, superintendent of the schools.

Our next trek is April 3-4-5 to Wekso, the Naso Eco-lodge. Those wishing to join this visit with Grandmother Water and her people can email for details.


Big River Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 educational organization

Big River Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 educational organization

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Naso Assemble to Seek Independence

This weekend Panama celebrates 192 years of independence from Spanish rule, as do many indigenous cultures who arrived long before the conquistadors from Spain. The Guna, Embera, Wounaan, Bugle & Ngobe cultures thrived independently on the land bridge now called ‘Panama’ for more than 1,000 years before the conquest of the Americas by Europeans. They are independent today due, in part, to Panama’s admirable tradition of respecting the rights of the first Americans by granting autonomous “Comarcas” to those who pioneered settlements in the New World.

As North America gives thanks this weekend to the indigenous who enabled the survival of English settlers, Panama shares its independence with those who enabled the survival of Spanish settlers. In this regard Panama is a beacon for enshrining in Central America the right of indigenous cultures to autonomy in their ancestral territories.

There is only one tragedy in this triumph of justice for the first Americans. One intact culture, the Tjer Di Naso, gained recognition by UNESCO for its stewardship of its ancestral territory, now a World Heritage Site and International Park, ‘La Amistad’, but it has not received “Comarca’ status. This is the last kingdom in the Americas. It is a monarchy in that all kings come from the ruling Santana family, and it is democratic in that leaders who betray the will of the Naso people are exiled. Tomorrow the Naso convene to choose another member of the Santana family to replace Rey Alexis who failed to respect the people’s wishes to petition Panama’s National Assembly for a Naso Comarca.

In testimony before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) national leaders claimed the Naso were too few to deserve the same legal rights as the other indigenous cultures in Panama. This is an impotent argument debunked in subsequent testimony in IACHR proceedings which state that continued failure to respect Naso territory is tantamount to cultural genocide for this tribe of 4,000 people. The real issue is not the Naso population, but the economic potential of the Naso’s ancestral territory, where many rivers comprise one of the few pristine watersheds remaining in our hemisphere. The Naso’s natural resources are coveted by public private consortiums led by foreign corporations working to profit from the voracious appetite of an extractive consumer culture.

The Naso prize sustainability and see foreign developers as new conquistadores. One candidate to ascend to the royal palace is the superintendent of schools for the 12 Naso communities, known affectionately as “Maestro Santana”. He was narrowly defeated by the recently deposed Rey Alexis Santana because Alexis’ party was originally opposed to hydroelectric development, cattle ranching and logging which has resulted is massive clear-cutting in Naso territory. Now the Naso are saying, “no more”. 2014 will determine the future of this beautiful culture, and that future begins in tomorrow’s assembly to choose a new representative to pursue autonomy for his people.



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Our Trashed Rivers: Cleaning up America’s Waterways

With so much attention paid to climate change these days, it can be easy to forget that there are other pressing threats to our environment. Familiar problems such as litter and illegal dumping are still as prevalent today as they were in decades past. Small rivers and streams carry debris for miles before emptying into the nation’s largest waterways, such as the Mississippi River. The largest bits of trash, including such items as fridges and tires, become lodged in the riverbed. While lighter bits of trash either clump together around vegetation or float all the way out to the sea.

River Garbage First

Even though attitudes towards the environment have shifted in recent years, rivers and waterways are still heavily affected by polluters. A study published by the E.P.A. earlier this year found that 55% of the country’s waterways were insufficient to support healthy aquatic life. An additional 23% were found to be in “fair” health, meaning not overly polluted, but not growth-promoting either. Only 21% of rivers and streams were deemed in “good” health with very little contamination. Even more troubling is where these poorly rated rivers are located.

According to the E.P.A., 71% of rivers in the Southern Atlantic and Gulf Coast states are in poor condition. These failing grades are attributed to not just trash, but large volumes of agricultural and wastewater runoff containing large amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen. These chemicals interfere with the natural growth of plants, causing soil erosion and disrupting connected habitats. Other regions fared just slightly better. Over 50% of rivers in the Northeast and Midwest were found to be in poor health, with fewer than 20% marked as good. The only regions where good rivers outnumbered poor ones were the Northern Plains and the Pacific Northwest where 40% and 42% of rivers were found to be  in good condition.

Garge Day on the Snoqualmie  River

Garge Day on the Snoqualmie River

Fortunately, there are many groups and organizations out there that work to reverse this rising tide of waste. Mississippi-based Living Lands & Waters is a non-profit organization that fields a fleet of barges that they use to clean up trash from the Mississippi and its tributaries. Chad Pregracke, the organization’s founder, states that he has helped pulled over 67,000 tires from the Mississippi, in addition to such oddities as washing machines and hot tubs. In total, Living Lands & Waters has pulled some 7 million pounds of debris from the waters of the Mississippi over the past 15 years.

What type of legacy will we leave to the next generation?

What type of legacy will we leave to the next generation?

For waste that isn’t so easily scooped out of the river, groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) work to curb pollution from industrial and agricultural activities. The NRDC uses legal remedies outlined in the landmark Clean Water Act to enforce pollution controls, as well as to propose ever more stringent water pollution standards. Cleaning up rivers that suffer from industrial pollution is a long and arduous process that often begins in the court room. Many major polluters are forced to adhere to environmental regulations only after they have been sued by environmental groups or government agencies. But even once the dust settles and the legal battle ends in the environment’s favor, it can still take decades for river ecosystems to recover.

It may seem like keeping waste out of our rivers is a daunting, perhaps impossible, task. But there have been plenty of success stories throughout the short history of the environmental movement. The burning of the Cuyahoga River, the catalyst for many of today’s environmental laws, occurred just 44 years ago. Since then the river has made a remarkable recovery thanks to heavily enforced pollution controls and remedial action plans enacted by the E.P.A. and local authorities. Fish stocks have rebounded thanks to improving water quality, and even bald eagles have made a return to the region with two pairs of nests spotted in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park as recently as 2006.

So long as communities and environmental organizations remain steadfast in their efforts, our nation’s rivers will be able to survive and thrive well into the 21st century and beyond. You can do your part by ensuring that your trash is properly disposed of and to lend your voice to local environmental groups.


Written by Kevin Rossignol, writer and outreach coordinator for Budget Dumpster, guest blogger. Thank you Kevin, keep up the great work!


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Tjër Di Naso to seek Comarca for Conservation Autonomy in their Ancestral Territory to Protect Natural Resources from Developers

The UK’s Darwin Initiative funded a three-year project in 2006 led by London’s Natural History Museum in La Amistad International Park, Naso territory.  Some 12,000 species from two continents were documented, more than two dozen new to science.  Shortly after this first and only scientific exploration of the Rio Teribe watershed, a hydroelectric developer brought the first heavy equipment, roads, bridges, and dynamite to one of its key tributaries. The Naso have been recognized by United Nations Environmental, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for their sustainable stewardship, but their territory is under pressure from all sides.

Giant Bascilus

Giant Bascilus

Two kings have now been exiled for failure to conserve their democratic kingdom where all leaders must come from the ruling Santana family. Like his Uncle Tito before him, Rey Alexis was forced to leave the royal palace last month for failure to respect the will of a supermajority of his people who want comarca status to conserve their ancestral territory. A new election is set for November 30th.

I first met with Naso leaders in 2007 as they developed an Organization for the Development of Sustainable Eco-tourism for the Naso (ODESEN). The Big River Foundation (BRF) works with ODESEN to bring groups to the Naso biosphere reserve for “Watershed Watch Expeditions” to explore the pristine Rio Teribe watershed by hiking and kayaking to study an increasingly rare intact river ecosystem.

Upriver the Rio Teribe is Caribbean-blue, deep, and teaming with life. Big River Foundation Director Stephen Kaczor with ODESEN Leader Edwin Sanchez

Upriver the Rio Teribe is Caribbean-blue, deep, and teaming with life. Big River Foundation Director Stephen Kaczor with ODESEN Leader Edwin Sanchez

We shared the Naso’s heartbreak when former king Rey Tito Santana betrayed the wishes of his people. He granted a hydroelectric concession to a Medellin-based consortium on the Naso’s Rio Bonyic. He was immediately deposed by a supermajority of his people and lives in exile to this day.  The people voted Rey Valentin to replace Tito, but Panama’s National Assembly would not recognize Rey Valentin until the Bonyic project was near completion, knowing he would have cancelled the concession.

In 2012 the National Assembly finally recognized a new ruler, Rey Alexis, the youngest Santana in Naso history to rule this tribe of 4,000 people. The hydroelectric consortium immediately co-opted him, so the people ousted Alexis from the royal palace just like his uncle Tito. With developers ready to install a 2nd project on the Naso’s Rio Shey, this is a critical time for the Naso, who are presently electing a new king, this time with the specific charge of petitioning for a Naso Comarca in 2014.

After years working together to develop ecotourism in their region, we have established a solid working relationship with ODESEN leaders. They now request logistical, tactical, financial, and professional assistance to file a formal legal petition to create an autonomous Naso Comarca to protect their Rio Teribe at the watershed level, 160,000 hectares.  They need a professional presentation for the first debate with Panama’s legislature in 2014.  We advocate strongly for the Naso to join the other tribes in Panama already recognized with Comarca status, to include an area sufficient to conserve their watershed with an adequate buffer zone. We have helped ODESEN leaders appear before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington DC; the Commission supports the Naso position.

Leaders of all twelve Naso villages are organizing in advance this time, to avoid a replay of conditions that led to the first hydroelectric project.  We are constant contact during this planning period. The habitat of La Amistad was recognized as a World Heritage Site because it comprises a land bridge for migratory and other species from two continents, sandwiched between two seas. It is too important to fall to corporate for-profit development, as is the case with hydroelectric developers under SIEPAC, the interconnection of Central American power grids. This is a private plan to export electricity by harvesting public rivers in Central America and transmitting as north as far as Mexico under the Pueblo-Panama Plan. This may be the largest heist in the history of man. Water is life.

Panamanians recently demonstrated that they stand with the indigenous against the development of natural resources in their autonomous territories. This was evidenced by President Martinelli repealing a mining investment initiative (2011’s Law 8) after his administration’s polls showed 70% of voters against exploitation by foreign corporations of natural resources in the cloud forests of the Ngobe-Bugle Comarca.  We have shared this encouragement with Naso leaders and are producing a documentary film short to share the Naso’s plight internationally; it is in final editing.

Yasuli & Alexandra at the Naso Eco-lodge, Wekso

Yasuli & Alexandra at the Naso Eco-lodge, Wekso

Naso is the last intact indigenous culture in Panama without autonomy to conserve their territory. The Naso expect that a conservation set aside will be granted, and this is one of four goals for the New Year:

  1. Baseline freshwater fish, crabs, shrimp, all river species
    1. above/below tributary of new hydroelectric project; and,
    2. above/below tributary of 2nd (proposed) hydro project.

The Naso have witnessed massive extinctions on the Rio Bonyic where this tributary meets the Rio Teribe as a result of the first hydroelectric project. No longer do freshwater crabs, shrimp, or fish grow in the tributary to find their way to the main river. Birds no longer feed there. Species die-off will be quantified with empirical data to further document the case against a second project on the Rio Shey. Data will be compared between the two tributaries to illustrate the effects of hydrological disturbances in the Naso watershed.

2. Publish results in scientific journals and local periodicals.

3. Craft a presentation with a large map of the Naso’s ancestral territory showing boundaries of UNESCO’s World Heritage site known as La Amistad, its buffer zone known as the Palo Seco Forest Preserve, and Bocas del Toro province at El Silencio. This map will highlight the proposed autonomous territory for the Naso Comarca showing their 12 communities along the Rio Teribe . The longstanding Naso Conservation Management Plan will also be made available to National Assembly members.

4. Advocate throughout the process for the Naso’s petition to join the other indigenous cultures on the isthmus with their own Comarca, inviting testimony from UNESCO, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, IACHR, the Big River Foundation, ODESEN and Naso Leaders. We hope to fund Naso leaders travel expenses to and in Panama City as needed during this process, and to facilitate legal counsel.  The first trip for the new leader and his team will occur immediately after his coronation.

Grandmother Water is a documentary examining the need to balance development versus the need for conservation of watershed ecology, the priorities of consumer cultures versus the priorities of sustainable cultures.

The Naso worship “Tjër Di” as their Grandmother Water, literally the water in the Rio Teribe, as a sacred deity, she who nurtures Mother Earth who provides for us all. She provides everything the Naso need to sustain their culture – water, food, transportation, eco-tourism, recreation. Cultural genocide would be the result of the death of Grandmother Water, of the Rio Teribe being made unnavigable, according to testimony before the IACHR.

We have a grant application pending with the United Nations Rapid Response Facility to support this Naso initiative. Donations also help us to provide the level of assistance needed and are tax-exempt under IRS code 501(c)3. There are four ways to lend your support to this cause:  Visit and click “Donate Now” at the top right; make direct contact in Panama at +507 6966-2691; arrange a tour to present your contribution directly to ODESEN leaders; and/or, share this story. For more information, see earlier Rio Teribe posts.

“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

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One River, One Tribe

The Naso navigate by water taxi on the Rio Teribe

The Naso navigate by water taxi on the Rio Teribe. Photo by Jennifer Long

The Naso are a Leaver culture. They wish to leave their forests and rivers as they inherited them from their ancestors, clean & crystalline. Takers wish to develop them for profit but the Naso regard their water as a sacred deity, Grandmother Water, Tjer Di in their language.  The Naso will not exchange her, she who sustains all life, for roads and bridges they don’t need, to drive cars they don’t want … to jobs they don’t like.

The Naso are not seeking to consume or sell the environment that has provided everything their people have needed for more than 1,000 years. They wish to conserve their culture, heritage, and natural resources, not trade them for video games, microwave burritos, nor any other aspect of consumer culture. They prefer to leave the frantic object-based, convenience-obsessed culture to die of natural causes. They choose to live in harmony with nature rather than selling her to corporations flying the flags of profit.

Raphael fishes with a snorkel mask and underwater slingshot.

Raphael fishes with a snorkel mask and underwater slingshot. Photo by Stephen Kaczor

In his epic adventure of the mind and spirit, Daniel Quinn presents us with a teacher who is a gorilla, Ishmael.  Ishmael has a message on the wall of his den: “With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?”  The other side of the poster reads: “With gorilla gone, will there be hope for man?” The book goes into depth regarding the evolution of Leaver vs. Taker cultures and embodies the Naso struggle.

The book begins with an ad in the personals section:

 “Teacher Seeks Pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

Leavers like the Naso have much to teach the Takers. Quinn explains, “Takers and Leavers accumulate two entirely different kinds of knowledge. The Takers accumulate knowledge about what works well for people, but not for all people. Each Leaver people has a system that works well for them because it evolved among them … and this kind of knowledge is called wisdom.

The Naso have wisdom of which plants in the rainforest cure which ailments. They have wisdom of how to build rafts to go between their communities and to market with a zero carbon footprint. They know their Rio Teribe like the back of their hands, navigating upstream with small outboard motors even in times of low flow. They have wisdom of where the fish, freshwater shrimp and crab live, and how much they can harvest without overfishing breeding stocks. They have wisdom of how to sustainably harvest wood and plant new seedlings; they do not clear-cut their forests.

Edwin Sanchez navigating the Rio Teribe at night.

Edwin Sanchez navigating the Rio Teribe at night. Photo by Jennifer Long

Naso have wisdom of how to navigate their forests on foot, which is no small task given that their ancestral territory includes the one-million acre biosphere reserve that is the UNESCO World Heritage Site La Amistad and its buffer zone, the Palo Seco Forest Reserve. They have wisdom to create an organic producers cooperative and an organization for the development of sustainable eco-tourism to share their paradise with the world.

Karina Sanchez with her daughter at the Wekso, the Naso Ecolodge.

Karina Sanchez with her daughter at Wekso, the Naso Ecolodge. Photo by Jennifer Long

“Someone who knows what works well for people has wisdom. On the other hand, knowledge of what works well for production is what is valued in the consumer culture. And every time the Takers stamp out a Leaver culture, a wisdom ultimately tested since the birth of mankind disappears from the world beyond recall, just as every time they stamp out a species of life, a life form ultimately tested since the birth of life disappears from the world beyond recall. Ugly. It is ugly.”

“You want to know what this has to do with anything? The world of the Takers is one vast prison, and except for a handful of Leavers scattered across the world, the entire human race is now inside that prison. During the last century every remaining Leaver people in North America was given a choice: to be exterminated or to accept imprisonment. Many chose imprisonment, but not many were actually capable of adjusting to prison life.”

“Naturally a well-run prison must have a prison industry. I’m sure you see why”, Ishmael says to his student, who replies, “Well it helps to keep the inmates busy, I suppose. Takes their minds off the boredom and futility of their lives.”

The teacher asks, “Yes, can you name your prison industry?” The student gives it some thought, “Consuming the world”.  Ishmael nods,“Got it on the first try”.

Quinn explains, however, that “People can’t just give up a story. That’s what the kids tried to do in the 60’s. They tried to stop living like Takers, but there was no other way for them to live. They failed because you can’t just stop being in a story. You have to have another story to be in. And if there is such a story, people should hear about it.”

Naso Home

Naso home, riverside in Sieyik.  Photo by Jennifer Long

This story is Grandmother Water, a story about Kings and Presidents, Leavers and Takers, a story about “One River, One Tribe”, a story in which a beautiful  and sustainable indigenous culture asks the question, What Price Paradise?

For more details, or to support this effort with a tax-deductible contribution to the Big River Foundation visit us at Indiegogo. We also have volunteer opportunities in paradise.

“In the end, we conserve only what we love; we love only what we understand; and we understand only what we have been taught.” – Baba Dioum, Founder, International Union for the Conservation of Nature

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