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Kofan leader Emergildo Criollo, Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo and her daughter, and Siona leader Flor Tangoy stand by one of the infamous oil waste pits in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon how the proposed activities – roads, platforms, pollution – would fragment the forest, undermine biodiversity and wildlife, and pollute an important biological corridor running across the wider region.

The Waorani refused to sacrifice their forests and rivers to oil wells, roads and pipelines. They decided to resist. They began by conducting dozens of hours of interviews that revealed the government’s “consultation process” to be fraudulent. In the run-up to the auction announcement, the state had relied on timetested tactics of manipulation and deceit, designed to keep Waorani villagers in the dark about the potential impacts of oil operations in their territories.

This summer, after six years of fighting, the Waorani changed the course of history for the Amazon. An appellate court in Ecuador blocked the government’s plan to auction off the land, ruling that the government had violated the tribe’s rights to prior consultation and self-determination. The decision, capping years of work, effectively halted the planned auction.

The Waorani strategy of resistance was pioneering and multifaceted. It involved organising, protest, alliance-building, territorial mapping and legal filings. Young people and elders together documented the breadth and richness of life in their territory by creating a living map of their connection to the land, using GPS, film, camera traps, drones, and a customised mapping program they could use offline in remote forest. Whereas the maps of oil companies only show petroleum deposits and major rivers, the maps that the Waorani created tell the story of their people’s relationship with the plants, the trees, the water and the animals. This and other elements of the campaign demonstrated the tremendous power that Indigenous nations can wield when they refuse to surrender to government tricks and pressure. In one amazing example, the Waorani women halted court proceedings until the judge provided a translator who spoke their native language – and they did it by refusing to stop singing.

Their victory is a victory for a living Earth. The Amazon is home to 10% of the species on the planet,

16 Waorani communities unite to send a message against oil drilling in their ancestral rainforest territory, Pastaza region, Ecuadorian Amazon

12 Resurgence & Ecologist

November/December 2019

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