A visual history of Indigenous Peoples' land rights

SPDA and indigenous federations are working with government to build national capacity to title indigenous lands and forests

The goal is to secure title over five million hectares of indigenous forest lands in Peru


Decades of struggle by Peru’s Indigenous Peoples set the stage to attain legal title to their lands and forests

Peru has made significant progress in recognizing in law the land and forest rights of Indigenous Peoples—but limited progress titling collective rights on the ground. Indigenous communities have insecure land tenure and their lands and forests are threatened by tourism, mining, illegal logging, and infrastructure projects. These threats fuel decades of violent conflict.

More than 20 million hectares of the Peruvian Amazon claimed by Indigenous Peoples remain untitled, says the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP). The government is not meeting its legal obligations to recognize new territorial and communal reserves, title indigenous territories at the village level, and complete the demarcation and cadastral updating of more than 1,000 native communities.

The lack of clear rights over their territories puts indigenous communities at risk of losing the lands that sustain them, and weakens their position when contending with illegal logging and other threats to their lands. It also increases the risk of deforestation and the loss of their forests, which provide vital carbon storage and are key to combatting climate change.

Fifty-seven percent of Peru’s territory is forest, and much of that land is indigenous territory. Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the proven best stewards of the Amazon rainforest. Peer-reviewed research shows that titling community lands in the Peruvian Amazon leads to an immediate and significant reduction in deforestation. Titling indigenous territories represents a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the fight against climate change. Securing tenure will also reduce the conflicts that have plagued Peru and set the stage for sustainable and equitable development. The land rights of Indigenous Peoples have not been a political priority, particularly where they collide with expansion plans for tourism, extractive industries, and infrastructure. Lack of capacity within regional government institutions, indigenous organizations, and communities is also an obstacle to progress.

The land rights of Indigenous Peoples have not been a political priority, particularly where they collide with expansion plans for tourism, extractive industries, and infrastructure.

The Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA) is working with two national government ministries, two regional governments, and several federations of indigenous organizations to advance tenure security for Indigenous Peoples and local communities in Peru. The goal is to support national and regional governments as they build their capacity to fulfil their obligations to title the territories of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. SPDA aims to leverage about US$80-million in ongoing donor-funded projects to secure title in the threatened Amazonian regions of Loreto and Madre de Dios, and other regions of Peru. Over two years, the initiative aims to directly secure 200,000 hectares in the regions of Loreto and Madre de Dios, and by leveraging ongoing donor investments, advance tenure security over five million hectares nationally. This will benefit more than 500 communities, enabling them to move forward with economic development initiatives, to protect and manage their forests, and contribute to mitigating climate change. The initiative builds on an innovative partnership between an indigenous federation, NGO, and a regional government, piloted by the Tenure Facility from 2015 to 2015 in the region of Madre de Dios.

Who are the Indigenous Peoples of Peru

According to the 2007 census, Peru has 28.2 million inhabitants. The indigenous population accounts for 14% of the national population, meaning there are more than 4 million indigenous persons in Peru divided between some 55 peoples: 83.11% are Quechua, 10.92% Aymara and 1.67% Asháninka, with other Amazonian indigenous peoples making up the final 4.31%. This remaining 4.31% comprises 51 or more different ethnic groups living in the Amazon forest across 1,786 communities. Peru is home to a large variety of ecosystems and a great wealth of natural resources. Currently, however, 21% of the national territory is covered by mining concessions, and these overlap with 47.8% of the territory of peasant communities. Hydrocarbon concessions cover some 75% of the Peruvian Amazon. This overlapping of rights to communal territories, the enormous pressure being exerted by the extractive industries, the lack of territorial cohesion and absence of effective prior consultation are all exacerbating territorial and socioenvironmental conflicts in Peru, a country which has signed and ratified ILO Convention No 169 and which voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. (iwgia.org)


Incas build the largest empire in the Americas, centred in Cuzco and extending over a vast region from Ecuador to Chile, however, their dominance over the Amazon and its peoples is limited


The king of Spain claims title to all land in Peru and grants his representative unlimited authority over native Peruvians


Simón Bolivar decrees that Indigenous Peoples have the right to own their land


Peru declares independence from Spain


Peru passes a law promoting settlement of the Amazon by foreign colonists


Peru enacts a law transforming into state property all lands not granted under concessions


In response to peasant uprisings, Peru approves the Constitution of 1920, recognizing the existence of indigenous communities for the first time and establishing Peru’s first legal provisions to protect indigenous communal lands


Through Supreme Decree No. 03, Peru creates 114 indigenous reserves over 155,763 hectares, granting use rights, but the reserves remain state property


General Juan Velasco Alvarado seizes control of Peru in a military coup and the following year approves the Law of Agrarian Reform permitting expropriation of large landholdings and conversion into peasant cooperatives


A boom in gold mining fuels conflicts between Indigenous Peoples and holders of mining rights

Velasco’s government passes the Law of Native Communities and Agrarian Promotion in the Lowland Forests and Valleys, granting Indigenous Peoples rights that were guaranteed in the constitutional reform of 1920

Peru formalizes property rights for 1,200 indigenous communities in the Amazon covering 11 million hectares and 17% of the national rainforest

The government recognizes the first indigenous communities in Madre de Dios—Royal Palm and Shintuya

The government decrees the Law of Native Communities and Agrarian Development in the Lower and Upper Rainforests, revoking Indigenous Peoples’ property rights over forests and natural resources within their territories and granting only use rights


Indigenous Peoples create the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP)

AIDESEP is a Peruvian national federation of 57 indigenous organizations, and represents 1,350 communities and about 350,000 people. It is dedicated to protecting indigenous rights and improving the health, education, housing, and organization of Indigenous Peoples.

Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP)


In response to conflicts over territory and resources, the Indigenous Peoples of the Madre de Dios region form the Native Federation of the River Madre de Dios and Tributaries (FENAMAD) to defend their rights


The Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon found COICA (Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin) to defend their land rights, cultures and the environment

“Our existence is framed in the defence of life and the Amazon to continue as a seed in the earth and preserve the forests for a living planet that will ensure the continuity of our present and future generations.”



Indigenous communities in Madre de Dios region clash with invading miners, and a 16-year-old indigenous youth is killed in San José de Karene in 1986

Backed by AIDESEP, FENAMAD demands legislation to resolve mining issues in Indigenous Peoples’ territories.


The Government’s proclamation of the Law for the Promotion of Investments in the Agricultural Sector leads to the development of a national cadaster of rural landholdings, but fuels the cutting of forests for agriculture

The law is one in a series of measures aimed at liberalizing the economy, reducing the role of the state and promoting neoliberalism.


FENAMAD wins landmark ILO case against gold miner Michael Dianda

Michael Dianda illegally invades and occupies lands officially recognized by the state as belonging to the San José de Karene community. After a lengthy conflict, FENAMAD takes the case to the International Labour Organization and the miner is forced to withdraw. The case demonstrates the power of community resistance to invasion by a rich and powerful outsider.

Peru dismisses two judges and forces a land-grabbing invader to vacate the lands of the indigenous community of Barranco Chico, after FENAMAD brings the case to the Supreme Court


33 die at Bagua when indigenous protesters clash with police and armed forces

The Peru-US free trade agreement opens the Amazon to private companies. AIDESEP leads opposition to laws that open the Amazon to exploitation and threaten the natural environment. After more than 50 days of protests, the government suspends civil liberties, declares a state of emergency, and sends in the military to stop the protests, leading to violent confrontations. Congress repeals the laws that led to the protests. The violence at Bagua is a turning point in the Indigenous Peoples’ struggle for their collective tenure rights.


Peru passes the Law of Prior Consultation of Indigenous or Original Peoples, requiring Indigenous Peoples to be consulted before legislation or other actions are taken that could affect their rights


Peru delegates responsibility for titling indigenous communities to regional governments, but progress is slow because the process is complicated and regional governments lack resources and capacity

Infierno receives clear title to its communal territory with support from FENAMAD—a first in Madre de Dios


FENAMAD and SPDA engage with the Tenure Facility

FENAMAD and SPDA launch the pilot project “Legal Security for the Indigenous Territories of Madre de Dios and Cusco in Peru” to accelerate tenure security for Indigenous Peoples, defend the rights of  Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation or Initial Contact (PIACVI), resolve land conflicts, and foster good forest management. Decades of struggle by Peru’s Indigenous Peoples to secure their rights, and the support of USAID and other donors and NGOs, set the stage for the  project.


FENAMAD, SPDA, and GOREMAD pioneer a unique partnership among an indigenous federation, an NGO, and a regional government that can be scaled to resolve longstanding conflicts over land tenure throughout the country

Madre de Dios is a region of the Peruvian Amazon where the situation is emblematic of much of Peru. In Madre de Dios, seven Indigenous Peoples live in 33 communities, with a total population of about 890 people. More than 50 percent of these communities require legal and physical clarification of their territorial claims before they can secure their title in the public record. The lack of clear rights over their territories puts these communities at a disadvantage when defending themselves against gold mining—a major cause of deforestation. Madre de Dios is also home to Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation or Initial Contact (PIACVI) whose lives and lands are threatened by incursions from illegal loggers and miners. They have limited immunity to common diseases and contact with the outside world can be fatal.

Five indigenous communities in Madre de Dios advance collective title for their lands covering 64,000 hectares with training and legal support from FENAMAD

Boca Pariamanu resolves conflicts and is ready for official registration of title

Boca Pariamanu is a community of 22 families, with a population of 85. They are members of the Arahuaca ethnic group. With the help of FENAMAD, GOREMAD completes the georeferencing of the community’s territory, thus resolving conflicts that evolved from overlapping forest rights and reducing the threat of illegal logging. Boca Pariamanu is ready to officially register the title of its territory.

Boca Pariamanu determines the boundaries of its territory and resolves conflicts over mines and Brazil nuts

Boca Pariamanu determines the boundaries of its territory and resolves conflicts over mines and Brazil nutsThe community has not yet received official collective title. However, with its territorial boundaries clearly defined, it is able to resolve the land conflicts with the mines and one chestnut concession. The community is negotiating with the second chestnut concession and expects a favorable outcome soon. When this conflict is resolved, the government can process Poca Pariamanu’s title. This will take time, however, the residents of Boca Pariamanu are already better equipped to protect their land rights and their forestland, and negotiate with miners and others who threaten the territory they depend on for their livelihood.

Puerto Luz is ready for official registration of land title

Puerto Luz is a community of 113 families, with a population of 450. They are members of the Harakmbut ethnic group. With support from FENAMAD, GOREMAD completes all the fieldwork necessary to update the boundaries of the community’s territory and prepare for official registration.

Puerto Luz resolves 32-year conflict with San Jose de Karene and awaits official title

Shintuya completes all field requirements to receive title

Shintuya is a community of 65 families, with a population of 250. They are members of the Harakmbut ethnic group from Madre de Dios. With support from FENAMAD, GOREMAD completes all the field requirements for issuing title.

Shintuya receives title to its land

Shiringayoc receives title

Shiringayoc is a community of 22 families, with a population of 90. They are members of the Matsiguenka tribe from Madre de Dios. Shiringayoc has a forest management plan and operates a model sustainable timber operation, but insecure tenure limits the communities’ ability to negotiate with miners and deal with threats from illegal loggers, hunters, and farmers. With technical support from FENAMAD, GOREMAD defines the boundaries of the Shiringayoc territory. The General Assembly of the community adopts the map, and the government approves. The community receives official collective title to its territory of 11,929 hectares on 6 February 2017 and its people can now protect their land rights and livelihood.

Shiringayoc receives official title to its territory

Tipishca georeferences 40% of its territory

Tipishca is a community of 20 families with a population of 60 people. They belong to the Yine people, also known as Piro. With the support of FENAMAD, the community georeferences 40% of its territorial boundaries. The process is not complete because of an unresolved conflict related to overlapping rights with two proposed forest concessions.

Tipishca demarcates 40% of it communal boundaries

FENAMAD establishes an agreement with the Ministry of Culture to strengthen a system to defend Indigenous Peoples living in voluntary isolation

Incursions from illegal loggers, miners, drug traffickers, and tourists are pushing Indigenous Peoples living in voluntary isolation in the 800,000-hectare Territorial Reserve in Madre de Dios to the limits of their territories, sometimes forcing them into contact, which can result in fatal epidemics and violence. Forest rangers in indigenous communities are trained to monitor the forest, record contacts, and enact an emergency protocol when needed.

FENAMAD and SPDA expand government awareness of solutions to insecure land tenure in Peru by publishing “A first look: the legal situation of rural land tenure in Peru”

The book by Silvana Baldovino of SPDA, recommends policy and regulatory reforms based on experience titling in Madre de Dios and other regions. SPDA distributes 2000 copies to communities, NGOs and government agencies.



FENAMAD ensures that governments and private sector can easily know and respect the boundaries of indigenous territories by launching Peru’s first web-based indigenous map platform

FENAMAD Map of Peru

With greater technical capacity for managing the titling process, FENAMAD aims to continue clarifying title in Madre de Dios and share its experience with regions throughout Peru

Peru’s judges promise environmental crimes will not go unpunished

SPDA promotes the idea of a judicial pact to help stop the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, home to many Indigenous Peoples in Peru. The idea is adopted by Peru’s judiciary, the Catholic Church, indigenous organizations and the Government of Peru. Peru’s judges sign the Pact of Madre de Dios on 30 November, a commitment to respect the right to a healthy environment and a promise that environmental crimes will not go unpunished. The president of the national judiciary calls on private companies to support this cause.


FENAMAD and SPDA sign agreement to further the development of Indigenous Peoples in Madre de Dios

Commemorating the 36th anniversary of the establishment of FENAMAD and the visit of Pope Francis to de Dios, the organizations sign a cooperation agreement on 18 January to strengthen FENAMAD’s capacity to support the development and protection of indigenous communities in Madre de Dios.

Pope Francis calls for the defence of the Indigenous Peoples and the environment of the Amazon

Thousands of Indigenous People from the Peruvian Amazon, Brazil and Bolivia gather in Puerto Maldonado, capital of the region of Madre de Dios, for Pope Francis’ visit on 19 January. FENAMAD President Julio Cusurichi gives Pope Francis a document containing the demands of the Amazonian Indigenous Peoples. Pope Francis says native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present. He highlights the large-scale economic interests that direct their greed towards oil, gas, timber, gold, agro-industrial mono-cultivation. He says indigenous territories are threatened by the perversion of certain policies that promote the preservation of nature without taking into account the Indigenous Peoples who live there. The Pope promises that he and the Catholic Church will offer them “a whole-hearted option for the defence of life, the defence of the earth and the defence of cultures.”

Achuar people’s victory against Chilean oil company Geopark sets legal precedent that could support the titling of millions of hectares of Indigenous Peoples’ land

Judge orders authorities to start titling the Achuar’s collective territory in the Pastaza River basin. This is a huge victory in the fight for indigenous territorial rights in the Peruvian Amazon because the current law only allows for community-by-community titles. Consequently, vast areas of rainforest that Indigenous Peoples use cannot be titled.

SPDA scales up innovative partnership to build capacity of national and regional governments to title the lands and forests of indigenous communities


Funded by the Tenure Facility, the new project involves three national government ministries, two regional governments, and several federations of indigenous organizations. They include the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), Native Federation of Madre de Dios (FENAMAD) and the federations of indigenous communities in Loreto, the largest region in the Peruvian Amazon. The partners aim to leverage about US$80-million in ongoing donor-funded projects to secure title over five million hectares of indigenous forest lands in Peru, and directly assist the titling of 200,000 hectares in Loreto and Madre de Dios.


Representatives of the Peruvian Society of Environmental Law and the Ministry of Agriculture sign an agreement with SPDA to work together to formally recognize the land titles of indigenous communities