A First Nation of 8,000 people in Colombia is considering “mass suicide” after the Colombian government okayed oil exploration in the nation’s ancestral land.

Occidental Petroleum Corp., a U.S. petroleum giant, got a license to do exploratory drilling for oil next to Indian lands just outside a 543,000-acre reserve inhabited by the U’wa Indian nation.

“We are looking at the information to see what action the community will take. Mass suicide is one option we are considering,” said Evaristo Tegria, an U’wa spokesman in Cubara, the main town of the reservation.

“This spells cultural and environmental genocide.”

The decision comes after a seven-year battle by the semi-nomadic U’wa to prevent drilling on their ancestral lands, where they fish and farm in a hilly forested area.

The area to be explored – 500,000 acres – is almost as big as the reserve. It is thought to harbor up to 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil, which would help ensure Colombia’s energy needs well into the next millennium. Oil is Colombia’s top export, bringing in $2.5 billion a year.

Tegria feared the oil exploration will bring Colombia’s bloody guerrilla war to U’wa territory. Leftist rebels control 40 percent of the country and have blown up oil facilities dozens of times. Colombia got $289 million from the U.$. in military aid in the past year.