Kichwa Tribe Depends On Forest, Biodiversity
An indigenous community of about 400 villagers is preparing to resist the Ecuadorean army and one of the biggest oil companies in South America. Ecuador’s Kichwa villagers vow to resist oil prospecting by the state-backed company Petroamazonas at all costs.
The Kichwa tribe has said they are ready to fight to the death to protect their rainforests, which cover 70,000 hectares, adjacent and part of Yasuni National Park, and huge additional Ecuadorean rainforests are threatened by new industrial oil auctions as well. Industrial development of rainforests for oil in the Amazon basin has a long history of destroying ecosystems, and contaminating water.
The Kichwa tribe on Sani Isla say they are ready to fight to the death to protect their territory. The region is one of the most biodiverse on Earth, and the large intact ecosystems power local and global sustainability. The Ecuador government has received much acclaim for plans to protect biodiversity rich Yasuni from oil development in exchange for compensation payments. Yet much of the rest of the nation’s rainforests remain threatened by oil development, including a new round of leases, and indigenous peoples continue to lose control of their rainforest homes.
Community members are launching a last-ditch legal battle to stop the state-run firm assisted by a British businesswoman, who is married to the village shaman, and who was recently appointed to run the local eco lodge.
Mari Muench, who is originally from London, said the community decided at two meetings late last year to reject a financial offer from the oil firm because they were concerned about the long-term environmental impact of mining.
They recently learned, however, that the chief of the village has signed a contract giving the go-ahead for the oil exploration, even though they say he was not authorized to do so.
Earlier offers of a new school, university places for village children and better healthcare were dropped in the document, which provides compensation of only $40 (£24) per hectare, according to copies that the Guardian has seen.
The community secretary, Klider Gualinga, said more than 80% of the village is opposed to the oil deal, but a minority are pushing it through against their wishes and local rules.
“People think it is dishonest and the oil company is treating them like dogs. It does not respect the land or the planet. There is no deal, nothing is agreed. The people do not want the oil company. They’re very upset and worried,” Gualinga said. “We have decided to fight to the end. Each landholder will defend their territory. We will help each other and stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent anyone from passing.”
If there is a conflict, their chances of success against the better armed and trained military are slim. The Sani Islanders say they are scared but determined.
“If there is a physical fight, it is certain to end tragically,” said Patricio Jipa, the shaman and former community chief. “We may die fighting to defend the rainforest. We would prefer passive resistance, but this may not be possible. We will not start conflict, but we will try to block them and then what happens will happen.”
“It makes me feel sad and angry. Sad because we are indigenous people and not fully prepared to fight a government. And angry because we grew up to be warriors and have a spirit to defend ourselves. I wish we could use this force to fight in a new way, but our mental strength is not sufficient in this modern world. If the laws were respected we would win. But our lawyers have sent them letters and they won’t even talk to us in Quito.”
“We are now fighting against a signed contract. We must make people realize it is invalid but there is huge concern the oil company will move quickly to clear the land. When that happened elsewhere, they used armed troops, beatings and abductions to remove those who stood in their way.”
The members of the Kichwa indigenous group are custodians of swaths of the most biodiverse areas in the world. Their land is close to the Yasuni national park. Scientists say a single hectare in this part of the Amazon contains a wider variety of life than all of North America.
Community members are appealing for outside assistance in their legal battle and efforts to find economic alternatives through their eco lodge.
Petroamazonas – the state-backed oil company – has told the Kichwa it will soon begin prospecting, backed by public security forces, paying only $40 per hectare. Residents of Sani Isla have built up an arsenal of weapons – spears, blowpipes, machetes, guns, sticks and stones – to fend off Petroamazonas, in a confrontation which has been delayed but not yet won. Community leaders have stated “we have decided to fight to the end. Each landholder will defend their territory. We will help each other and stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent anyone from passing… We will not start conflict, but we will try to block them and then what happens will happen.” Community members are appealing for outside help protesting the oil invasion, assistance in their legal battle, and in efforts to find long-term economic alternative to fossil fuels.
Letter To Ecuador’s President From Rainforest Porta
Tell President Correa that standing, intact old-growth forest ecosystems are a requirement for local advancement and for local and global ecological sustainability; and demand that the invasion of indigenous nations’ rainforests be halted.
To: President Correa, Republic of Ecuador
Dear President Correa,
I am writing to express grave concern with Ecuador’s failure to protect its rainforests and indigenous peoples from oil development. While the Yasuni-ITT initiative may protect for a while some vitally important rainforests, much of the rest of your great nation – particularly indigenous communities – are threatened by ecocidal oil development. You are repeating past disastrous policy for short-term profit by a few at the expense of rainforest communities, their water and land, and your nation’s ecological sustainability and respect for human rights.
I am disturbed by plans by Petroamazonas to develop the Kichwa tribe’s oil resources against their wishes, and demand the project be cancelled immediately. The Kichwa are justified using whatever means are necessary to defend themselves from an illegal invasion of their rainforest homelands. Further, new oil auctions in the rainforests of the south-central Ecuadorian Amazon threaten some of the last pristine old growth forests in Ecuador, including the rainforest homes of seven native nations that have repeatedly voted to reject oil extraction on their lands. These disastrous oil auctions must be cancelled.
Concerned global citizens stand in solidarity with these indigenous nations and urge you to immediately stop the oil auctions and pursue alternative strategies for Ecuador’s long-term economic development that promote community advancement based upon standing, intact old-growth rainforests. Future national well-being – indeed global leadership – depends upon sustaining national ecosystems.
We urge you to do the right thing and respect the rights and wishes of indigenous people, and protect some of Earth’s most precious ancient old-growth forests. Please immediately cancel Petroamazonas plans to illegally enter the Kichwa tribe’s rainforests, and stop further rainforest oil auctions. Leave the oil in the ground, your priceless rainforests in place, and pursue a truly sustainable future based upon standing rainforests. The health and well-being of future Ecuadorean and global generations are in your hands. The world is watching.
Rainforest Conservation News: http://www.rainforestportal.org/shared/alerts/sendsm.aspx?id=ecuador_oil
Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support.