Thursday, May 23, 2019

Rare win for indigenous Amazon jungle tribe

(New Yorker 5/15/19); Ellie Askew, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Waorani women celebrate their court victory (Dolores Ochoa/AP via The New Yorker).

An Uncommon Victory for an Indigenous Tribe in the Amazon
Nemonte Nenquimo (Rodrigo Buendia/AFP)
On April 26, 2019, a parade of hundreds of Waorani, an indigenous nation in a remote part of the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle, marched triumphantly through the streets of Puyo, the regional capital of the eastern province of Pastaza.
  • PHOTO: Nemonte Nenquimo and other Waorani representatives marched in Puyo on the day they won a lawsuit against the government (Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty).
Many had come from villages in parts of the rain forest that have no roads -- journeying by canoe and small plane. They were celebrating a new court ruling, which held that the Ecuadorian government could not, as it had planned, auction off their land for oil exploration without their consent.

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Nemonte Nenquimo (pictured), a Waorani leader, told me that they had come to Puyo to reclaim their right to self-governance and that the verdict had made them feel safer.

“The court recognized that the government violated our right to live free and make our own decisions about our territory and self determination,” she said, over WhatsApp. “Our territory is our decision, and now, since we are owners, we are not going to let oil enter and destroy our natural surroundings and kill our culture.”

In February, the Waorani, together with Ecuador’s Ombudsman, a parliament-appointed official who serves as a public advocate, had filed a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government for not properly consulting with them before opening up their territory to potential oil exploration.

In recent years, Ecuador has divided much of its portion of the Amazon jungle into blocks to lease the mineral rights in an international auction. One of the blocks included Waorani land.

Waorani Native American village in disregarded rural Ecuador (Kate Fisher/wiki)
In 2018, the government removed Waorani territory from the auction but said that the region could still be subject to future drilling.

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The path to the verdict had not been certain. In March, a group of Waorani women shut down a hearing with song, protesting the conditions under which the case was being tried; they objected to it being held in Puyo, far from the Waorani villages, and to the absence of a court-certified translator.

Many of the Waorani representatives wore traditional dress in court and had red bars painted across their cheekbones and brows. Singing a song about their traditional role as protectors of the forest, they drowned out the judge and lawyers until the judge finally suspended the hearing, which was rescheduled for April.

Nemonte Nenquimo and other representatives of the Waorani people marched in Puyo, Ecuador, on the day they won a lawsuit against the government, over plans to lease oil rights on their land. More

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