Local Response to a Global Problem
Indigenous territories cover an 22% of our planet’s natural landscape and house an astonishing 80% of Earth’s biodiversity. In an increasingly industrialised world, these ecosystems and the indigenous populations who call them home, face devastation at the hands of the fossil-fuel industry. In a trend discernible globally, indigenous peoples are banding together to challenge the various industries and practises fuelling climate change in a mission to protect and preserve the sanctity of their local environments.
The Waorani: One Group Making Big Changes
The Waorani indigenous group of the exuberant Southern region of Ecuador are one of 14 indigenous nationalities currently managing this threat. As a nation of traditional nomadic hunter-gatherers, their lifestyle, which operates in balance with nature, has become progressively threatened by the auctioning of indigenous land for oil and logging exploitation. Faced with adversity, the Waorani have joined together and fostered positive change in their communities, through peaceful means, in the form of concerted legal action against mining practices and the formation of local indigenous organisations. Let’s find out more about these encouraging initiatives.
The Divine Feminine: Nemonte Nenquimo
Traditionally, women hold a seminal position within the Waorani social structure as decision-makers and leaders, meaning they have led many of the efforts to defend their homeland from the already visible effects of climate change and the world’s thirst for natural resources. Nemonte Nenquimo is a prominent leader within the Waorani community who has achieved significant progress in efforts toward the preservation of indigenous land in the region. Through her inspiring leadership, she instigated a now-infamous ground-breaking lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government and co-founded the Ceibo Alliance.
Nemonte has been recognised globally for her contributions toward the de-escalation of climate change. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize 2020 on behalf of South and Central America in acknowledgement of her efforts, and was listed amongst the British BBC’s 100 Women of 2020. Looking further into the influencing nature-preserving initiatives of Nemonte and the women of the Waorani community, an inspiring narrative of genuine devotion to nature and community begins to unfold.
Taking Legal Action
Oil extraction from Waorani territories began in the 1980s but was initially very restricted. However, in 2012, the Ecuadorian government sadly began the auctioning of ‘oil block’ areas of their rainforests to the oil industry, which overlaps with over 500,000 acres of Waorani Amazonian land. But, on April 26th, 2019, the Waoroni community of the Pastaza territory, led by Nemonte Nenquimo, achieved an unprecedented victory in a legal battle against the Ecuadorian government to protect over 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest from devastation by the designation of its land for oil drilling.
The lawsuit was filed against the ‘Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Resources’ by the Waorani community. This was for the lack of consultation and inclusion of the native population in decisions regarding the auctioning of indigenous land to private companies. Hundreds of passionate Waorani citizens, motivated by their fierce dedication to the protection and nurturing of their native land, were joined in allyship by other indigenous nations across Ecuador, united in their common cause. For some, the journey overland took eight days of travelling to join the cause. The success of the lawsuit has incredibly promising connotations for future efforts in preserving natural resources within indigenous territories and presents a peaceful opportunity for indigenous opposition to industries that facilitate climate change.
Alternative Initiatives: The Ceibo Alliance
Co-founded by Nemonte Nenquimo, Ceibo Alliance is an indigenous-led organisation created to protect indigenous lands from resource extraction through building viable alternative solutions to rainforest destruction. The Ceibo Alliance extends beyond just the Waorani community and unifies several indigenous nationalities within Ecuador, consisting of delegates from the Kofan, Siona and Siona people. It leads multiple programmes in mapping local geographies, environmental monitoring, water sanitation and the creation of solar power systems. And, ultimately utilises indigenous knowledge to create practical alternatives to the power and benefits provided by traditional industries. This negates the need for the presence of oil, electrical and logging industries in the region. Through the solar program alone, the Ceibo Alliance has installed over 120 systems in 16 communities, bringing sustainable power to villages without compromising the beauty of the surrounding environment.
Striving Even Further: What Else Are The Women Doing?
A myriad of other Waorani female-led organisations have also been created to facilitate the possibility of a more sustainable future within the region. One notable organisation, the Waorani Women’s Association for the Ecuadorian Amazon (AMWAE), holds regular chocolate-making and handicraft activities for women in 58 local communities. This operation functions as an employment scheme that offers an alternative economic source of income for people within the territories or nearby regions, diminishing the need for Ecuadorian labour forces to contribute to oil and logging industries. They intricately design and craft beautiful handicrafts from exuberant native chambira fibres traditionally harvested from the rainforest. Thanks to the ingenuity of AMWAE’s ‘Chocolate for Conservation’ project, the illegal trade of wild meat was eradicated in the Yasuni Nature Reserve because of the project’s economic alternative for the food security of the Waorani population.
Facilitating the Future
The unprecedented legal success of the Waorani in their struggle against oil extraction practises is a phenomenal step forward. It is contributing greatly to the global indigenous effort to protect natural landscapes and limit the effects of climate change as a result of oil and logging industries. Similarly, the development of progressive grassroots organisations presents economic and cultural opportunities for the preservation of indigenous territories from the ground up. It has generated feasible economic alternatives to locals forced to otherwise support industries that contribute to climate change.
The multifaceted ways through which the Woarani are tackling such issues is pathing the way for a more sustainable future for Ecuador and the Amazon region. The success of small, concerted efforts toward a global change, enacted by individuals and indigenous organisations, are essential for facilitating a more sustainable future for us all.
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