A Message of Indigenous Resistance and Inspiration From the Amazon

Our fight is not just a fight about oil — it’s a fight about a different way of living

posted by Laurel Sutherlin
Nemonte Nenquimo with Waorani elders (Photo by Jeronimo Zuñiga, Amazon Frontlines)

The following piece is quoted directly from the keynote address of Ceibo Alliance co-founder Nemonte Nenquimo, who traveled from her home in the remote Ecuadorian Amazon to present to a live audience at this year’s Bioneers conference in Marin, California. This article is part of the Profiles in Community Action series, sourced from the resistance struggles of Community Action Grant recipients by Rainforest Action Network.

“I have flown here like a scarlet macaw from a forest, far away

“This is not a strange land to me because we are all connected.

“Because the forest connects us—you and me.”

I am Nemonte Nenquimo. My name means Many Stars. My people are the Waorani and our forest is our home. I am a Waorani woman and a mother.

I have a three-year-old daughter who is learning how to sing our songs. Songs that our ancestors sang for thousands of years. Songs about living. About growing food and hunting. Medicine songs. War songs. Joking songs.

After my daughter sings, she always asks me: “Now I am Waorani, right, Mama?”

Ceibo Alliance representatives addressing the 2018 Bioneers Conference (Photo by Ayse Gursoz, Rainforest Action Network)

Our songs, just like our forest, we inherited from our ancestors. As a mother, I feel the responsibility inside of me to pass down our songs and our forest to our children and grandchildren. But I am afraid for my people now.

Our ancestors defended our way of life for generations with spears. But the threats we face now cannot be confronted with spears alone.

Two moons from now, the government plans to auction our territory to the oil companies. If we do not stop them, the company will get a foothold in our lands. They will bring money, sickness and contamination. They will try to divide our families and change our way of thinking.

So, I am here now as a Waorani woman and as a mother. To tell you that our fight is not just a fight about oil. This is a fight about different ways of living. One that protects life and one that destroys life.

When we started Ceibo Alliance, the Kofan, Siona and Siekopai nations invited my people to visit their territories. (See also the English language website of Ceibo’s sister organization Amazon Frontlines.) We traveled from far away by canoe and jungle trail and we learned about all the problems that come with oil.

More than anything, we learned that the company doesn’t see the forest. They don’t see us. They see what they want to see. They see oil wells where we see gardens. They see money where we see life.

How can we defend our way of life and our forests? That was our question.

Participatory mapping of Waorani cultural territory (Photo by Mitch Anderson, Amazon Frontlines)

We decided to make a map of our territory that shows all of the creeks and trails. Our medicinal gardens, our hunting grounds, our sacred sites. Mapping our lands brought our people together. Our youth and elders trekked our territory, like the old days. Not with spears, but with GPS, video cameras and camera traps.

Now, the government wants to sell our land to the oil companies. But we are united. Our land is not for sale. In the coming weeks, we will take the government to court demanding that they respect our right to decide what happens in our territory.

By working together in the Ceibo Alliance, our people are stronger than ever before. We are supporting each other’s battles. Our Kofan friends have already won a big fight against gold miners, and us Waorani were there supporting them.

And the Siona are taking their battle to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanding the Colombian government respect their rights. And the Siekopai are titling ancestral lands in Peru that were stolen from them during the rubber boom.

I know that the Waorani will win our fight to protect our forests. Because we are not alone. We are fighting together.

And now, as a woman, as a mother, as a water protector and a forest defender, I want you to join us in our fight to defend our way of life, our forests and our planet.


This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.  

Nemonte Nenquimo, raised in the traditional Waorani community of Nemonpare in Ecuador, is one of the founding members of the indigenous organization Ceibo Alliance, which works to defend Indigenous peoples’ lands and rights in the Ecuadorian Amazon region. Nemonte is also passionately engaged in the struggle to uplift Indigenous women across the Amazon.