It seems there are still some sacred places on Earth after all! The Waorani people of Ecuador just won a historical legal victory that protects 500,000 acres of their rainforest from oil extraction. They are truly remarkable people and they fought hard and long to save one of the most biodiverse places on Earth! They made a huge statement and told the world and big government that their land is not for sale and will never be.
The Waorani have always called the Amazon rainforest their home and for thousands of years, they have defended their territory from trespassers. In ancient times, their ancestors left crossed palm-wood spears on trails to serve as a warning to would-be invaders, providing them a chance to retreat back to safety. Their entire culture is born in the forest and they have done everything in their power to ensure that it continues to live on for many generations.
Their fight was victorious! They have showed their courage and bravery, not backing down to big oil and have defeated the oil industry. In February, of this year, the tribe, along with Ecuador’s Ombudsman (an appointed official by parliament that serves as a public advocate) filed a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government for not consulting with the tribe about possibly allowing their territory to be exploited by oil companies. It seems, the Ecuadoran government has divided a lot of its Amazon rainforest into blocks that they plan to lease the mineral rights of the land in an international auction. One of those blocks was the land owned by the Waorani tribe. Although the government removed the territory from auction in 2018, it didn’t entirely say that it wouldn’t be subject to future oil drilling.
In response, the Waorani tribe took it upon themselves to make sure nothing ever happened to their land. Their lawsuit was based on the tribe’s claim that Ecuador didn’t properly consult them about the auction. According to Mitch Anderson (the founder of the Amazon Frontlines organization, which is a non-governmental organization that partnered with the tribe about environmental issues, the Waorani weren’t properly informed about the auction and weren’t provided a serious discussion about what oil extraction would do to their territory.
So on April 26th, a 3-judge panel ruled that the Waorani tribe weren’t adequately given the necessary discussions and that their territory couldn’t be included in the oil auction by the Ecuadorian government. This is a monumental ruling, which could in fact impact other indigenous tribes who are facing the same dilemma with their territory and lands in danger of being victimized by oil companies.
One of the tribe’s legal counsel, Maria Espinosa, stated in a press release that the ruling also means that “the State cannot auction off the territories of the six other indigenous nations in the southern Ecuadorian Amazon.” So this really is a win for all! To celebrate the victory, hundreds of tribe members marked through the streets of Puyo, which is the regional capital of the eastern province of Pastaza. Many of these Waorani men and women traveled from villages that had no roads, getting to Puyo by canoe or small plane.
But despite the win, a lot of work and progress must continue given the country’s Ministry of Energy and Non-renewable Resources announced on Twitter the next day that they planed to appeal the ruling. That’s why we need to continue to fight for our world’s most precious and vulnerable places!