Indigenous Women Sing to Fight for the Amazon and for their Way of Life

Photo: Waorani Resistencia Pastaza
It was 1973 when the first barrels of Texaco oil was carried on a large military procession from the northern Amazon in Ecuador to the seacoast for its processing and export. The parade included sullen indigenous women sitting above a tank, taken from their territories and families, most likely forcibly. The promotional video shows people dipping their hands in oil, unaware of how this promise of a “pro-development” nation-state would reap no benefits for local communities on both western and eastern regions but rather bring misery, cancer from polluted waters, sex slavery, and continuous displacement.
Forward 45 years and indigenous people are now more organized than ever, both regionally and across the many different departments in Ecuador. CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities in Ecuador, for example, includes regional organizations such as CONFENIAE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonía Ecuatoriana) and CONCONAWEP (Consejo Coordinación de la Nacionalidad Waorani de Ecuador-Pastaza) in the Amazon, ECUARUNARI (Conferderación Kichwa del Ecuador) on the central Andean cordillera, and CONAICE (Confederación de Nacionalidades y Pueblos Indígenas de la Costa Ecuatoriana) on the coast; as well as localized organizations such as the Waorani Resistencia Pastaza. Each also have their own community communication, radio, and social media services to communicate amongst each other and with the world at large. All of these diverse indigenous groups in Ecuador collaborate in defending their territories and women, in particular, are playing a greater historical role in fighting for their rights and the rights of their communities, faced with the same old extractive policies promoted by transnational companies and governments with the same old theory of trickle economics through short-lived oil and mining projects.

Waorani People Call for Their Right to Prior Consultation

Photo: Waorani Resistance Pastaza
Photo: Waorani Resistance Pastaza
As such, in the months of February and March 2019, hundreds of Waorani people representing 16 communities took action to demand the Ecuadorian government respect their Right to Prior Consultation before moving forward with oil exploitation on their lands. They appealed on a joint press release that a previous consultation carried out in 2012 was done without proper socialization nor taking into account language and geographical barriers. “These facts show that the State did not comply with the provisions of national and international standards on prior consultation and, on the contrary, it was a process that instrumentalized this right, which apparently continues to be seen as a process of partial socialization of information and unaware of the spirit, scope and function of this right in a serious and apparently voluntary manner,” they said in their communiqué. Waorani spokesman Oswaldo Nenquimo and of their lawyers explained on Radio Mokawa that they have asked the courts for Protection Actions Precautionary Measures to void current oil concessions on their lands and respect the will and rights of the people. “We invite government officials to come and see the rainforest, see our culture,” said Oswaldo, “We want justice to be imparted on our territory, for the audience to take place in the rainforest […] to talk to the pekinane, our elderly council, our traditional authorities.” The court called for a last-minute public audience on March 13 in the City of Puyo, which was rejected by the Waorani for being logistically too far away nor providing them with interpreters in their native language. In face of the judge’s refusal, the Waorani women burst into song: “What our grandparents did, we are doing the same thing now, leaving no trace anywhere. You cowore (mestizos), see now the reality of what we are. We come to ask you to respect our culture. Come to our territory, if they respect us they will come. We do not want war like our ancestors, we just want to be heard. We want peace, empathy, understanding.” Faced with the women’s poise of resistance, and unable to understand them, the judge agreed to cancel the public audience on the 13th and work under the Waorani’s terms by giving them at least 20 days before calling for a new audience. According to Mongabay, the area where these 16 Waorani communities live is one of the best-preserved Amazonian regions, for its pristine nature, ample biodiversity, and lack of paved roads. Biology researchers from the Universidad Catolica have found as many as 182 species of amphibians alone. Scientists and indigenous people agree that where a dirt road begins, deforestation, animal trafficking, and colonization follows, particularly in fragile environments. The Waorani in Ecuador’s south understand from stories told by indigenous people in Ecuador’s north that oil exploitation only brings death to their families and to their way of life. As protectors of Mother Earth they stand before a historical short-sighted view of development but know that this time, those who fight for climate justice are on their side.