As oil drilling begins in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sápara people are prepared to lay their lives on the line to defend the Earth.
Indigenous, native, and First Nation communities around the world have long been fighting the forces of colonization. Thousands of unique communities with diverse cultures, languages, and beliefs are united in their desire to preserve their sacred ways of life. They are also fighting against the theft, slavery, and oppression which has characterized relations between native peoples and invaders.
One such fight is being waged to save the Amazonian rainforest, specifically the Ecuadorian Amazon. Despite Ecuador’s historic 2008 ruling that recognized the rights of nature, President Rafeal Correa has supported efforts to extract resources from beneath the Amazon. In 2013, Correa ended a moratorium on oil drilling in the Yasuni national park, an area rich in biodiversity and home to the Waorani and Kichwa indigenous communities. There have also been reports of uncontacted tribes who voluntarily live in isolation.
In August 2010 Ecuador became the first country in the world to agree to leave part of its vast petroleum reserves in the ground, unexploited for perpetuity. The protected oil is in what geologists call the ITT deposits, located under Yasuni National Park. The Park is a protected rainforest that may be the single most biodiverse area in the world, according to a 2010 study published in the scientific journal PLOS One.
Yasuni has more species of frogs and toads than all of the US and Canada combined: a single hectare in Yasuni was found to have 655 tree species.
As of April 2016, drilling has begun at the Yasuni park, only a few miles away from the Peruvian border. The first well, Tiputini C, is expected to be the first of around 200 wells necessary to extract the crude oil believe to be beneath the park. The first oil may flow by the end of 2016.
Sarayaku is home to the Kichwa and at the heart of resistance to resource extraction in Ecuador’s Amazon. In January, the Ecuadorian government signed an $80 million contract with Chinese state-run Andes Petroleum for a large portion of Sarayaku lands. Despite massive protests and resistance to the sale of the rainforest, the project marches forward, putting the home and lives of indigenous communities in grave danger.
Gerardo Gualinga is one community member who is choosing to fight against the drilling. Gualinga is part of the Sápara community and serves with the WIO, the Sápara’s traditional security patrol which works to prevent the government, military, and oil companies from illegally entering their territory. According to Amazon Watch, there are only 575 Sápara remaining and only a handful of elders who fluently speak their language.
“For us, the conservation of nature, of Mother Earth, is very important,” Gualinga told Amazon Watch. “The new threats that the government is pushing will destroy this. This is what we’re defending here. Mother Earth. Here is our treasure, our life. Not only for us, for the entire world. So our future generations, your children, your children’s children, can live and breathe clean air.”
So what can those of who do not live in Ecuador do? How can we make decisions that do not damage the planet or cause harm to communities we may never meet? The answers to these questions largely depends on your individual circumstances, but there are still concrete steps each of us can take to lessen our dependence on this system that encourages unsustainable growth at all costs. Begin to learn about these tragic fights. Educate yourself about what the oil is being used to produce or support. Once you have that information, you can decide if you want to live in line with your principles and honestly assess how far you are willing to go to reduce your impact on the planet and all its inhabitants.
Derrick is available for interviews.
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