Twenty-year-old Victor Contreras lives in Chinú, Córdoba with his parents and sister in a four-room home without a ceiling. He is a member of the Zenú Amerindian tribe, whose ancestral territory comprises the Colombian valleys of the Sinu and San Jorge rivers. He is also a striker for Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama’s indigenous Colombian national team.

Traditionally, fútbol has never played a pivotal part in indigenous culture. But as Steve Cohen notes in “Beyond the Ball: How Colombia’s Indigenous Peoples are Betting Their Future on Soccer,” “you can go to the deep Amazon…or some indigenous village in the Andean region…and, on a Saturday or Sunday, the kids are always playing soccer, always, and the community is there around the field.” He is quoting Juan Pablo Gutiérrez, general director of the Colombian National Championship of Indigenous Fútbol, which aims to draw attention to indigenous issues and provide a platform for communities to build lasting social and organizational bonds. Fútbol is “a dynamic that was converted into part of the social and cultural structure,” Gutiérrez continues, “and that breaks from all those paradigms and tired representations of indigenous peoples.”

Contreras is one young player taking full advantage of the platform and his paradigm-shattering position within it. For him, fútbol is establishing an alternative space to engage and motivate. He goes to bed at 8:00 p.m. every night, wakes up at dawn to run every day, and trains two to three hours a day Monday through Friday under the direction of Victor Montaño (who learned from Pacho Maturana and Luis Fernando Montoya in Medellín).

For him, fútbol is establishing an alternative space to engage and motivate.

Not only does Contreras represent his happy, fútbol-obsessed town (they’ve won the municipal championship an astonishing 12 times), he also represents the Zenú people in an effort to raise awareness for particle pollution from the Cerro Matoso nickel mine, and in turn recognize its role in a number of dangerous and downright disturbing health epidemics in the region. According to Cohen’s article, highly concentrated contamination has been found in tall grasses used to make sombreros vueltiaos, famous handwoven hats like the one Contreras wears between games.

For the Selección Zenú, Contreras dons the no. 9 camiseta in honor of his idol, Radamel Falcao. Upon his selection by El Pibe following a staggering 11-goal domestic campaign en route to an eighth Botín de Oro in Bogotá a few months back, he decided to wear nine once again for the Selección Colombia Indígena.

Photo by Leonardo Castro

His hard work, passion, and preparation paid off; Contreras scored three goals in the indigenous Colombian national team’s second-place run at the Copa América Indígena, which took place in Chile last July on the tailwinds of La Roja’s Copa América victory. After their terrific triumph, he’s rightfully hungry for more, and hoping that it will arrive in the form of a club contract in the very near future.

“[Contreras] is a natural goalscorer. He has the physical condition and technique, and a lot of disciple. He’s a good header, can strike with both feet. It’s collective: if he has the ball and sees a well-positioned teammate, he’ll give it to him. And when he’s forced to solve things on his own, he’ll face up and shoot,” said Montaño to reporter José Navia Lame.

At least 82 of Colombia’s 102 indigenous peoples have been represented through initiatives like the National Championship of Indigenous Fútbol, allowing for sharing and creation on previously unprecedented levels, and raising hope for Contreras and others through reciprocal relationships and authentic collaboration. A club contract for him could equal a step towards Cohen’s vision of a “meaningful infusion of self-identifying indigenous talent,” the first of its kind in Colombian fútbol history.