‘Speak to us first!’
Photo: FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN
*President of Ecuador’s indigenous organization CONAIE*
As a representative of the indigenous movement – I represent 14 ‘nations’ – my main goal is to reclaim and defend our human rights which have been trampled upon.
The Yasuní-ITT proposal was born within the indigenous movement. We have been calling for the development model to be changed so that, instead of oil, alternative ways are sought which will benefit humanity. Now we hear the speeches coming from the Government... It would be magnificent if it worked, if other countries were interested, but we will have to see... Oil is oil.
We are not close to the Government, but we are campaigning for countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, to support the proposal. We don’t want a ‘moratorium’; we want the crude to be left in the ground forever. The problem is that there is not enough interest at a world level; at the moment there are, I think, three countries that are interested. If Ecuador sets this example, it could change the economic and extractive models in other countries too.
We are proposing two things: first, that in territories where there is at present no oil exploitation, [indigenous] peoples reject the extension of the oil frontier. Second, in indigenous territories where there is already exploitation, indigenous communities should participate in the benefits and gains from oil to secure the future of their people.
Our message to the Government is that it should have a clear position on the model of development. If it only sees Mother Earth as a space that must be exploited to generate wealth, leaving those who live in the region destitute, then this is not a model but just a necessity of capitalism.
The Government should recognize that the largest part of the territory is inhabited by indigenous people; it must work with those who have been most excluded from the life of the country.
The international community needs to be vigilant on the human rights of indigenous peoples. It needs to support models of development which are changing in some countries, such as Bolivia, and calling a halt to imperialism.
Photo by FABRÍCIO GUAMÁN
*President of the Association of Waoraní Women*
We women started to organize ourselves when we saw that the male leaders were going away to work in the city but were not bringing back money for education or health. So we decided we would get moving, empower ourselves. If we didn’t do it, who was going to lead?
Our work was principally to defend our territory. We had no help, no money, we just did it. In our meetings we talked about health, about territory, and how to maintain our culture. Always we thought of our children and of how we would not let the oil companies enter; that’s how we began. They called us bure, ants that work together, gathering good leaves and guarding them. We women also use the term wema which is a bird that makes a good nest to protect its young. While the male helps very little, the female weaves the nest. We took up this idea: we are like these birds; let’s get to work! Bit by bit our organization has grown; those of us who are trained go out to other communities to pass on our knowledge.
The oil companies can destroy us. We don’t like anything to do with them. And now there’s talk of climate change which is going to happen in our territory as well... Therefore we women say: ‘No more petrol companies! No more pollution!’
There’s a lot of contamination left by Repsol in Waoraní territory. We are looking for help to get that information out, on video, in the press. In the past we women didn’t talk about these things. But without animals, without food, without trees, how will we survive?
We think that the Yasuní-ITT proposal is a good idea; we have talked with the Vice-President who said they would not exploit the oil. He needs to keep to his word and let us live, let us develop tourism. If the Government supports us, we will support the Government. It pains us to think that the Government receives money for oil which should be for us, which should be for those who live in the rainforest, for the good of the whole community. If anyone wants to do anything in our territory, they should speak to us first. We would like the international community to help us communicate our message that we don’t want petroleum companies: we want to live in peace, in health.
This article is from
the July 2008 issue
of New Internationalist.
- Discover unique global perspectives
- Support cutting-edge independent media
- Magazine delivered to your door or inbox
- Digital archive of over 500 issues
- Fund in-depth, high quality journalism