Humankind and Nature
The Ecuadorian Amazon's vast and diverse forest is the ancestral home to numerous Indigenous Nations, each with its history, culture, and cherished traditions. However, amidst their remarkable individuality, the Kofán, Siekopai, Siona, and Waorani share a common challenge: the degradation of their environment's well-being and, therefore, of their own physical, spiritual, and cultural health. Due to the centuries-long threat of colonization, its escalating deforestation rates, illegal mining, oil extraction and many other forms of violence, they have been depleted of their resources and undermined in their millennial stewardship of precious ecosystems. Indigenous rights have been jeopardized, discrimination persists, and they have suffered repression for defending their territories and ways of life. But these Nations stand united in their ongoing struggle for self-determination.
Nearly a decade ago, in response to these intersecting challenges, the four Nations made a pivotal decision to unite and forge a collective front. Under the banner of Alianza Ceibo, they have achieved remarkable feats. Their work advances and upholds Indigenous rights, provides capacity training and equipment for community-led territorial monitoring and mapping, safeguards land in real time to combat deforestation, facilitates territorial demarcation, and supports land titling processes. They revitalize ancient cultures and practices, invest in intercultural education models, foster community-based alternative economies, and employ Indigenous-led multimedia storytelling.
Their testimony delves into these topics, shedding light on Alianza Ceibo's project proudly supported by Azimuth: the establishment of a Land Defense School. This initiative bolsters Ceibo's land patrols throughout the Upper Amazon, expands its territorial defense training model regionally, and serves as a hub for knowledge exchange, fostering collective action among stakeholder communities.
Executive Director Gladys Vargas (Kofán) and Secretary Alicia Salazar (Siona) radiate immense hope, and rightly so. Their intergenerational commitment, the growing diversity of their endeavors, and the aspiration to unite more Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon all point to a future where Indigenous Peoples inhabit their territories, manage their resources, and determine their destinies in a harmonious state of peace.
Play the video version below (in Spanish, with English subtitles), or scroll down to read an English transcript.
First of all, good morning. "Kásé'te," in my Kofán language. My name is Gladys Fabiola Vargas Quenamá. I am 37 years old. I am a Kofán woman of the Kofán nationality. I live in the Kofán Dureno community.
Currently I serve as executive director in the Ceibo Alliance. I am very happy to continue fighting, with this Indigenous-led organization, in which we work with the four Indigenous nationalities.
My name is Alicia Salazar. I am Siona. I come from a small community called Seoqueya, from Cuyabeno. I am 59 years old. I am also part of the leadership of the Ceibo Alliance Foundation and I serve as secretary.
STRONGER TOGETHER: ABOUT ALIANZA CEIBO
We began a conversation about the organization around 2014, 2015. The legal entity for the Alliance was created and the Indigenous-led organization was formed. It comprises four Indigenous nationalities: the "compañeros" [Indigenous colleagues] A'i-Kofán, the compañeros Siekopai, the compañeros Waorani, and the compañeros Siona.
It's like a combination of all these forces, and we complement each other because we share the same experience of exploitation of territories, of contamination of the forest. I feel like the alliance is strength for fighting for a healthy forest, our culture, to preserve it in our forest, to be healthy, to be happy, to be able to maintain our culture and survive, also, as peoples and nationalities.
One of the goals of the Alliance is that, at some point, our nationalities or communities become sovereign, that at some point, they're able to manage on their own, don't depend on anyone else, but that they themselves will be able to manage and be autonomous with self-determination. That is the Alliance's ultimate goal that we want to achieve.
And, within that, we also have the projects that we want to implement. Those we've been working on, such as those about collective rights, in the defense work we've carried out, defending collective rights - everything that has been achieved, like the work of protection of Sinangoe. Also, the Waorani Resistance. What we are also doing now, these days, the court hearing with the Siekopai Indigenous colleagues, with another protection action that we are requesting. This is what we want to achieve. Because some of these we have already made it to winning the protection action, but we have to fight for compliance.
We are also working on mapping and monitoring. I think that this mapping issue has been critical because we have been able to make maps, and not like the maps the state does, that only identify some rivers and things like that, but rather like living maps, where we can say, "Look, there are sacred places here, places where there's fruit that animals feed on." A map like a living thing that helps us show, "Here we are. We exist here." And it has been fundamental to achieve these protection actions.
There's also the cultural issue. We're collecting all this knowledge on sowing plants that are very important for our nationalities, like yoko and yagé. Yoko is a plant that the Siekopai, the Siona and the Kofán, usually take at dawn and that is somewhat like an energizer. We take it and then we talk about dreams, tell ancient stories, and we also make handicrafts, some make hammocks by weaving chambira. And the other plant we also grow is yagé which I think almost all nationalities and peoples [from the Amazon] take. It's a plant that is essential to our spirituality, and helps guide our lives, and it is also the basis for achieving clarity in our governance.
And within this scope of cultural revitalization, we've also had the opportunity to create this leadership school for women. To support leadership and association between fellow women and to provide them with all this knowledge and to build their capacity to be independent and have their income.
We also have a school of communication for women. This year we've also integrated young men. It is also based on the idea of building capacity for women and help raise awareness about all the activities that we are carrying out. Communication is essential to be able to communicate to the outside, so they know about us and know what we're doing, but to also be able to communicate internally, to communicate to our communities and let them know what we're doing.
We also have education. Our own education. We have already started with the Waorani, with the Siekopai, and now also with the Kofán. Now we want to begin providing education with the knowledge of our ancestors, to the children, to the teachers, so that we, each nationality, does not lose its culture, so that we preserve it. So that children learn from an early age and that knowledge is reinforced in school. That's very important to preserve ourselves as Indigenous Peoples with our own cultures. That's what our own education is.
Let me also tell you a little about the work with solar panels. We do not have basic services, but this helps us in the communities to have this support, which is a support that does not pollute or contaminate, and helps the environment. It also helps in our homes, because during the daytime we go about our activities, in our chakras, the women, or the men as well, but at night, if we have light, we can also have family gatherings, we can do handicrafts and also share with our family, and pass on knowledge to the children. It also helps us because we don't have a monthly payment so this also strengthens us.
UNITING EXPERIENCES, CREATING KNOWLEDGE: ABOUT THE TERRITORIAL DEFENSE SCHOOL
The school is for territorial defense. And the capacity building and all that, we have been doing it almost forever, for a long time. But the idea now is to consolidate those experiences, that knowledge and strengthen, that knowledge, experiences, so that through that unification we strengthen ourselves in our defense, and thus be able to continue all this monitoring of our territory. And to be able to at any time, claim the titles to our territories, we have all this knowledge and we're empowered, too.
We already know our territories, the rivers, the plants, the resources. Training schools are very important for us. It will be led by Indigenous colleagues who bring their communities' knowledge to share with others who in turn come from other territories and nationalities.
Since we have received the grant, we have been organizing. That's why we have a person from the Ecuadorian [Indigenous] highlands who already has this knowledge and has been involved in governance too. And we also have another person who is from CRIC organization, of the Nasa people from Colombia. We also have a Waorani friend, Oswaldo Nenquimo, who has been leading this whole initiative of Waorani Resistance. And Alexandra Narváez, from the Sinangoe community, a woman guard who's been fighting hard and recently won the Goldman Prize for all her work.
So all these compañeros will be following all this very closely, and also, they won't be solely doing capacity building, in just one place, but rather they're going to chaperon on the ground, and take these "replicas," to the territories, and also teach the subjects, the units, that are going to be taught at the territorial defense school. Then we have other themes, such as self-determination, governance, own right, land rights, the law of origin, territorial and collective rights, use of surveillance for territorial defense, titles, agreements and defense of territorial limits, and defense of the territory for cultural rescue.
EXPANDING PROTECTION OF THE AMAZON: LONG TERM GOALS FOR THE PROJECT
The long-term goal is that all the knowledge is shared in the school, of all the compañeros, and participants, and they can return to their territories with much more knowledge. And that those who've learned so much can protect their territories and also be recognize at a regional level because, as we said before, we began as an organization, but now I would say we're talking about the entire Amazon region.
And also to include more communities, more communities in the region. So the school should also be a reference for Indigenous leadership in the territorial defense of the Amazon rainforest. And I know we will strengthen our youth who are also getting more involved in this knowledge sharing.
INDIGENOUS-LED PROJECTS: SUPPORTING WHO KNOWS TERRITORY
The nationalities, or the communities, we are the caretakers, the ones who know best what the value of our territories is. We know that here, in the Amazon, there is much extractivism from mining and oil companies, and from others for hunting and fishing. We know the threats we're facing and that's why we, as communities, are looking out. Now we know that there's global warming, climate change, too. So I would say that we, as communities, are what we take care of to give a future to our children, our youth, so that our daughters can also breathe clean air, and as mothers, as women, we are on guard. And that is why we know the best way to fight.
As we said, that's also something we must talk about in our own education. Because in our own education, we see that the teachers also need to know this knowledge from our elders about the value of our territory, so that the children, starting early at school, know how can we take care of our territories. Because some people think that our land is not valuable, but we know that our territory is our market, our pharmacy, and even our hardware store. So we need our youth to know this and our children to know this. That is why I say that we are the caretakers, the nationalities, and the communities.
AUTONOMY AND SELF-DETERMINATION: REASONS TO SUPPORT ALIANZA CEIBO
That would be, for example, to say that you should support us more because the school has the potential to support more communities regarding the theme of territorial defense. Besides, it is a fundamental principle in the development of autonomy.
That is why I say it is good to keep supporting the communities. Right now, we know support is scarce, but for the future, we need to keep expanding and unifying more youth to have the strength to continue this support.
Because with that we could also have more autonomy and efficacy in protecting our people and our forest. A forest free from contamination, meaning no traces of extraction because there will be a lot of that and the youth that will be here acquiring or receiving knowledge from others, and that is going to support us, and why I say we need to support our youth. Because nowadays it's not just the elders, and even women are getting involved, a star example is Alexandra Narváez, a Kofán woman, a mother, who has shown that. That's why we need to keep supporting. And make sure we're autonomous in the future.
The organization is here, in the Amazon, and working with four nationalities, but maybe in the future, we will be able to unite these forces, and we will support more than just these four nationalities, because the idea is also, since we're, in part, more in the northern part, where we have many threats, like my partner said, of extractivism, (so much oil extraction) so, to strengthen ourselves, first of all, our nationalities, with whom we're working, and then perhaps to be able to expand to other Peoples.
Right now, we don't have the capacity to be able to cover everyone, so we're saying we're going to continue here in the Amazon and strengthening ourselves, and, maybe later, if we want, to work on unifying the coast, the mountains and the east, in Ecuador, having it strengthened.
And maybe this can also serve as an example for other Indigenous Peoples in other countries, so that they can unify and strengthen because it is the only way to protect our territories, our culture, and our physical and cultural survival. If we are not united and strong we won't make it.
Everything that we do as Indigenous Peoples is not just for us but also for places very far from here, we're also supporting other peoples and the whole world. I also wanted to add that. Thank you.
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