The following is an excerpt from Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune’s book Coming Clean: Breaking America's Addiction to Oil and Coal:
We were a couple hundred feet or so above the canopy in the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle, and I felt the urge to shout - whether with joy or alarm, I wasn't sure. Squeezed into a tiny, four-seat plane, up front with the pilot, I was enthralled by the divine view of a lush green carpet of magnificent forest that extended in every direction as far as the eye could see.
I looked forward to meeting both the human and wild inhabitants of this captivating landscape, but I found it difficult to fully enjoy the flight - for we weren't here on holiday, but to challenge one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful oil companies. We were visiting the Kichwa community of Sarayaku, located deep in the rainforest of southwest Ecuador, near the Peruvian border.
Sarayaku is ground zero in the Kichwa people's battle to stop a massive oil drilling project within their native territory, led by Burlington Resources, since acquired by Houston-based ConocoPhillips. More than half the oil Ecuador produces is shipped to the United States, where it meets about 1 percent of U.S. demand.
Our visit, in March 2004, came just weeks after Ecuador's government had threatened to use military force to repress any resistance by the Kichwa, who have always opposed this project. The Kichwa have seen how similar oil projects nearby have introduced deadly new diseases, poisoned water supplies, decimated forests, and divided communities.
Shortly after landing, we all gathered under a thatched canopy, little children smiling shyly behind their parents' legs. One by one, for several hours, elders and other community leaders described how the oil company's plans would threaten their way of life. "You must make this case known," said one of them, Ricardo. "We are the Kichwa people. The jungle is our market. We live and eat off the jungle. We fish here. Our children play in these rivers. In the plane, you saw the river and the beautiful state of our forests. This is our home."
Through Protect-an-Acre, RAN has made a commitment over the years to support the Kichwa, Shuar and Achuar in their largely successful collective efforts to defend their traditional territories, which cover millions of acres of rainforest, from unwanted resource extraction.