Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

Ecuador. Let us live as Waoranis!

IPS 21.09.2021 Gabriela Ruiz Agila Translated by: jpic-jp.org

Alicia Cahuiya took the podium in the National Assembly of Ecuador. Her words from a Waorani woman echoed in the murals where laws are made for the homeland. She had arrived from Yasuní with a group of indigenous people under the injunction of supporting the exploitation of hydrocarbons in her territory.

However, she was determined to break the script. “There are seven oil companies operating in the Waorani territory that encompasses four provinces. What benefits have we received? In more poverty we have been! The indigenous people who inhabit the jungle are not the problem. We just want our land territory to be respected. Each time, governments are dividing it: intangible zone, Yasuní park. Where are we the Waorani administering?

This is how Alicia, an indigenous leader of the Ecuadorian Amazon, claimed that October 4, 2013. She had a snake painted on each of her cheeks, a sign of wisdom. Two bundles of light and dark fabrics crossed her chest, she wore a large necklace of seeds, a long red feather crowned her head.

"All of you have to say yes," the president of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador (Nawe), Moi Enomenga. had demanded to the indigenous people members of delegation, before their appearance in the National Assembly of Ecuador. He was dressed as a "great lord" with a stolen crown.

The community members were slyly summoned to the debate in the legislative branch to approve the bill that would authorize the exploitation of Block 31 and Block 43 in the Yasuní National Park. This is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and is home to the Kichwa, Shuar, Waorani and isolated peoples such as the Tagaeri or Taromenane.

Representatives of former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017) had put pressure on Alicia and other Waoranis, through the co-opted leadership. All were transported from their communities at the convenience of the government. It mattered little to the assembly members that this law would imply the depredation of the Amazon forest and the damage to the integrity of peoples such as the Kichwa of Sarayaku, Sapara or peoples in isolation such as the Tagaeri-Taromenane.

Enomenga threatened: “Alicia, you are doing very wrong. When you get to the community, your brothers are going to kill you.”

The Waoranis call each other brothers. The idea that her own people might hurt her made Alicia very sad. She lived in fear and anxiety, fearing for her life and that of her family. Soon after, unknown persons entered a room she rented for a reasonable price, in the city of Puyo, when she was leaving the forest. That night she fell asleep on the loft where she had climbed through a ladder. When the intruders entered, they did not see her. They stole her computer, her phone and her camera after poisoning the dog that was guarding the entrance of the house and left a paper that said: "Be careful with your life, you can die." Alicia still wonders what would have happened if they had found her downstairs.

Despite these threats, she Alicia continued to work for the Waorani and other peoples. In 2013, she witnessed at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to speak on behalf of the the isolated Tagaeri-Taromenane peoples, affected by development projects in strategic sectors that ere devastating natural resources and the people’s ways of life.

The different actions and protests of the indigenous people did not stop the oil exploration. After the popular consultation of 2018 to protect the Yasuní, the government of Lenín Moreno (2017-2021) failed to comply with the mandate of the Ecuadorian people; authorized the drilling and production of hydrocarbons in Block 43 (ITT) that affected isolated towns and Waorani territory.

In this context, in 2019 the Waorani people won the legal ruling in national courts to see respected their right to prior, free and informed consultation, as Article 57 of the Ecuadorian State Political Constitution protects it. Even so, the government did not stop its plans and unfair contracts were born. For example, the Agip Oil company in 2001 earned millions of dollars, generated in Block 10, and the community only received a sack of rice, a sack of sugar, two buckets of butter, a bag of salt, two soccer balls, a whistle for the referee and a stopwatch.

Of course, the consequences weigh on the territory. In the heart of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve, the damage is evident. The Manduro River registers twice the hydrocarbons (0.6 mg/1) allowed by the European Union for bathing water and sixty times more than that approved for domestic consumption water. Meanwhile 447 lighters remain burning liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) in open air. A few months ago, the Waorani Dikapare commune - located in Block 55, in the province of Orellana - was militarized to protect the operations of the oil company Ecuaservoil SA.

Alice's long walk

Her image with red and yellow feather headbands, wayruros on her wrists and knees for protection, and her traditional clothing woven with chambira fibers identify her in all the spaces she enters.

The red mask on her face, painted with achiote, shows her imposing when she speaks to indigenous leaders, presidents, journalists, environmentalists or during international forums. Her long black hair cascades down her back. It measures approximately 1.55 meters, however, at 46 she has the strength of a river; she goes back and forth from Ñoneno to Quito, and then to Shell - her community – hiking or travelling by canoe and bus. She confronts the oil companies and political power with the pride of her ancestors, the Yasuní’s inhabitants.

Waare, her grandmother, called her "Weya" which means "Guardian of the Waterfall" and instructed her in the use of plants. She taught her how to claim mountains, prepare arrows, make handicrafts and take care of the farm. Her grandfather Iteca was a highly respected warrior who fought against the rubber tappers. They assassinated him and his body was buried in a ritual way among the Yasuní people. Waare cries remembering Iteca having no place where to honor his memory, because the machinery of the oil companies had destroyed the place. The Waoranis ran out of palm groves, their kewencores where they sit among for territorial defense and where they build the graves of their grandparents when the government authorized laying lines of roads and pipes for kilometers through the forest.

When she realized that her grandmother's tears warned of the pain coming on the next generations, Alicia felt her heart ignite. She decided to find a way to make her voice heard. She organized with other women, improved her Spanish, and traveled to Quito more frequently to tell a story that contradicts the oil boom speech.

The oil infrastructure works caused the forced displacement for many Waoranis. In the 1970s, the government and oil companies such as Texaco-Gulf installed the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) to serve as a community mediator. Under the pretext of evangelizing and educating the Waoranis, the government, oil companies and SIL began the forced segregation towards the indigenous “Protectorate” of Tiweno, in order to empty the lands. In this way, the Ecuadorian State was able to offer “vacant” land to oil companies, reinforcing the practice of expropriation of collective land for “public interest”. This is why Alicia and other Waoranis are in resistance. They know that oil will devastate their territory and that, without the forest, they would disappear.

Take the spear

Oil brought other problems to indigenous territories: logging, mining, hydroelectric plants, alcoholism, violence, prostitution. Some Waorani leaders signed agreements with oil companies for the exploitation of their ancestral territory. While the women were relegated to domestic care, the men - employed by the oil companies - learned Spanish and other people's customs; they earned money but did not bring clothes or food to take care of their children.

They were leaving the meetings with the oil companies and go home drunk and violent. “I wondered what we could do to make this stop,” shares Alicia, who also suffered abuse. This is how the Waorani Women Association of the Ecuadorian Amazon (Amwae) was born. Amwae ensures financial autonomy for women, strengthens their role, makes their political presence visible and generates employment in the elaboration of handicrafts and cocoa production, as recognized by the Equator Prize in 2014 and the 2015 Green Latin America Award (For Biodiversity and Forests).

In the forest, you do not need dollars but hard work to take care of the land while the logic of the consumer market modifies the relationship between the Waoranis and the nature.

"If it were for money, my children would not know the jungle," says Alicia. So the fight had to start at home. She confronted her father, who worked all his life for the oil companies and who still defends them, and then she had to confront her husband.

Traditionally, Waorani marriage served to pacify wars, unite clans, and reinforce the peacemaking role of women. Breaking his promise was death. Alicia was 12 when she had to marry Nanto at Shell. She had previously been betrothed to the son of a powerful Yasuní shaman but the adults chose for her the current husband.

"You have to arrive home at a specific time or stay home," Nanto was trying to impose on Alicia when he assumed leadership. But she had to fulfill her tasks: traveling and organizing her people not having complaints and jealousy at home. Her husband - who was also a community leader - even asked her, at some point, to accept the oil company in Yasuní. Alicia did not give in.

The Waoranis do not allow women to touch their weapons, because they consider it to be "bad luck," Despite the fact, one day Alicia took Nanto's spear and alone she went out to hunt monkeys and tapirs. Over time, Nanto learned to care for his girls and boys while his wife worked as a politician.

Victory in Cotopaxi

The 2021summer marked a milestone. Alicia was elected as the head of Women and Family in the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (Indigenous Nationalities Confederation of Ecuador - CONAIE), one of the organizations with the greatest impact in the country and within the region. She thus became the first Waorani woman elected to the highest office in an instance of national indigenous political representation.

The president of Conaie, Leonidas Iza, at her possession said. "We must strengthen indigenous justice in our communities due to the levels of violence that our companions are suffering."

More than 30 years after the "first indigenous uprising" in 1990, Alicia's election was the result of political processes of local and community leadership, and of the history of indigenous female leaderships. As Alicia recalls, that march was her first visit to Quito, led by her parents. From then, she forged her path, until she became vice-president of the Nawe, co-founder and president of Amwae. On the afternoon of the possession, among the Cotopaxi Mountains, Alicia was commissioned to take care of the families and women of 53 organizations that represent 18 peoples and 15 indigenous nationalities.

Her aunt, Huica, accompanied her. Nanto was by her side providing her a support. Alicia clasped her with her companion hands and raised them in victory. As the leader of CONAIE, Alicia plans to train women to eradicate gender violence, support the process of strengthening indigenous female leaderships, continue the struggle with a State that intends to expand oil exploitation in Yasuní. The government of the banker Guillermo Lasso (who took office in May 2021) has already announced the increase in daily oil production from 500 thousand to one million barrels.

That is why Alicia Cahuiya's fight is more current than ever. Satellite images show the opening of a 4.7 km highway in Block 43 that crosses the Yasuní Park and connects the Tambococha platform B and C, Ishpingo A and B. And this despite the spill of 15,800 barrels of oil that occurred on April 7, 2020, which continues to affect Waorani families and other peoples that live along the Napo and Coca rivers. There is still no justice for the 25,000 families affected.

The Kichwa song by the children of Cotopaxi was part of the ceremony of her possession as high leader. At its end, Alicia's provocative question vibrated toward the authorities: "Where will these children live?" Then her claim, "The government must understand that the forest is not an empty territory, it is not a commodity either." Then Alicia claimed once again, "Let us live as Waoranis!"

See, Querer vivir como waorani, ante expansión petrolera en Amazonia de Ecuador

Photo. Alicia Cahuiya provides testimony on the situation of Amazonian indigenous peoples before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in 2015. © IACHREl

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