Village Earth

Huaorani Defend Culture/Territory with Law not Spears


In August 2011 the Huaorani of Yasuni organized a meeting in Bameno, Penti’s (the elected leader of the Yasuni Huaorani) community, located in the heart of the Yasuni, the most bio-diverse place on earth. Members and leaders of 4 communities met here for three days. They looked at the threats to their territory and human rights together with Judith Kimerling, a lawyer and human rights activist, that has been working with the Huaorani for many years helping them defend themselves with modern tools – the written law. Judith used this occasion to give an update on the United Nation Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that took place in New York this May, informing the Huaorani about what was discussed and what other organizations are planning to do in the Huaorani territory. After the welcoming chant of Kemperi and Ahua, warriors and respected elders of Bameno, the Huaorani proceeded to discuss their vision to work together as one to defend their territory. Wangi (Rosa), one of the women leaders and president of Bameno, evoked how her grandparents lived here. She said that although they are few, they have to defend their land as one, they have to defend their forest, and to see how they can do this with other friends; the Huaorani are aware they need to develop a relationship with outside friends to work together. The Huaorani remembered how their parents defended the forest and the elders evoked their past fights – because of which Yasuni still exists. They recalled how they realized that outsiders tricked them and took their territory. Now they have to explain to others how they want to live. Civilization came and they did not know what would happen, but now the Huaorani understand civilization tricked them, took their land, harmed their home the rainforest and tried to destroy their culture. The Huaorani said they have to make the outside world understand they do not want this. Everybody reaffirmed their commitment to the defense of Yasuni for future generations. The Huaorani expressed their common worry about oil companies coming in their home. One oil block that is on the way to being developed is the home of the uncontacted group, the Tagaeri, whose rights to live free and in voluntary isolation are being trespassed upon. All this is a great concern for the Huaorani, they do not want any more oil companies in their territory as they understand the harm the oil has caused. The government does not respect the rights of the Huaorani to participate in the decision-making process, and the information they provide to communities is murky. There is a high turnover in government officials, the Huaorani talk to one person who agrees on something, the next moment they are gone, and all the agreements and discussions fall apart. The Huaorani are now fighting with documents, not spears as they have the means to leave a durable message and their word can stay for the future. The outsiders’ politics manipulate who has the rights to manage the land of the Huaorani.  Many outsiders try to speak on behalf of the Huaorani, which is why the Huaorani need to make documents to express what they think.  They want to make their voice heard to the outside world. The Huaorani agreed to send a message to the outside world to try make the government understand and to try develop relationships with new friends that would support their continuous defense of Yasuni. They are aware now of the need to work with trusted outside friends and with new methods (laws, documents, videos, pictures) to defend their territory. This meeting not only set an agenda for the Huaorani, but it also brought communities together, facilitated collective action, and strengthened the Huaorani traditional institutions and way of organizing themselves. Written by Luminita Cuna, Maloca Project Director

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