By Juan Millan

The relative geographic isolation and lack of access to State-provided health services have made the practice of traditional medicine integral to the Achuar culture. The Achuar people, located in the Amazonian forest of Peru, between four river basins Huituyacu, Manchari, Huasaga and Alto Pastaza, have formed a concept of their own “integral territory”. This concept is based on ILO Convention 169, the major binding, international agreement concerning indigenous peoples, and a forerunner of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Achuar people’s definition of integral territory includes surface, subsoil, forest flight, water, fauna and flora, genetic resources, and the different ecosystems.

The ILO Convention 169 foresaw the need to strengthen indigenous cultures and institutions, regardless of the degree of development they had achieved. The convention also gave indigenous people the right to participate in decisions that would affect them. The document declares the people have a right “to decide their own priorities in relation to the development process, insofar as this affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or use in some way, and control, as far as the possible, their own economic, social and cultural development.”

The same Convention also protects the health services of indigenous peoples by encouraging health-focused organizations and the State to generate policies and regulations that promote the practice of traditional medicine. Article 25 of the Convention establishes the duty of the State to provide indigenous peoples with the economic means to create adequate health services that respect the traditional medicine practices of these peoples. It should be emphasized that the Peruvian State is included in the ILO Convention 169 (Item 2 of Article 25) a framework of action where it is committed to support and respect the autonomy and development of these peoples, as well as to promote and deepen their ancestral knowledge with respect to the property and possessions that communities have of their territories.

Although there is an adequate international regulatory framework for protection, the indigenous people require assistance in the implementation of rules for the development of national regulations that clearly include the interests of indigenous peoples. In this way, the initiatives of this international legal framework are supported by Rainforest Partnership, which seeks to promote health care from an intercultural perspective. With all our future work, we seek the formation of leading promoters that contribute to preserve and protect the ancestral knowledge of the Achuar nation.