Text and photos by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator
On March 8, cries, cheers, shouts and drum beats rang out in the air of Puyo, Ecuador, the streets pulsing with the movement and steady steps of over 500 Indigenous women leaders and international allies, standing together to denounce a new oil contracts recently signed between the Ecuadorian government and Chinese oil corporation Andes Petroleum.
Women leaders from seven diverse nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, including the Andoa, Achuar, Kichwa, Shuar, Shiwiar, Sapara and Waorani nationalities had decided to unite on International Women’s Day 2016 with the expressed purpose of drawing attention to the dire social and ecologic implications of these new oil contracts, while calling for respect for Indigenous rights and the lives and just solutions of local women leaders, who’ve consistently put their bodies on the line to stop destruction across the Ecuadorian Amazon.
International Women’s Day events and actions began with a powerful forum at a central school and community center.
Women from across the region and their male allies, from toddlers and youth to honored elders, packed the open air auditorium, filled with anticipation as speakers gathered on stage, colorful banners were strung from the roof, and signs with statements such as ‘Femicide = ecocide – No persecution of women defending Pachamama ’, ‘We want the state to hear us – Andes Petroleum out of our territories’ and ‘They want to criminalize me for protecting my territory‘ were distributed throughout the crowd.
To join the day of action in the jungle town of Puyo, many women had walked, canoed and bused from deep within the Amazon, some carrying small children on their backs and in their arms, and many dressed in the intricate, unique and sacred clothing and adornments of their peoples.
The forum opened with ceremony led in partnership by local women and Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA Councilwoman Leader and WECAN delegation member and Special Projects Advisor. Following prayers, thanksgiving and welcomes, key women leaders representing all the nationalities present took the stage to share information about recent developments and current extraction threats in their area, and to share traditional songs, dances, wisdom, calls to action and plans for change.
In just one of many inspiring moments, women leaders of the Huaroni people, who hail from the Northern Amazon where oil extraction has already been devastating the land and peoples for years, took the stage to attest that the Huaroni will stand until the end with their sisters of other nationalities in an attempt to protect their rivers, air and soil of the Southern Amazon, much of which remains uncontaminated under the vigilant care of local women leaders.
Osprey Orielle Lake of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Leila Salazar Lopez of Amazon Watch took to the stage to share words of solidarity from the international community and connecting the day’s march to global struggles of women standing in defense of Mother Earth, and for just climate solutions.
Osprey shared that more than 2,000 signatures from 60 countries had been collected on a WECAN petition and statement in support of the International Women’s Day actions and ongoing struggles to protect and defend the Amazon and its diverse communities. She also pledged on behalf of WECAN to work in solidarity with the Indigenous women of the Amazon everyday into the future until threats to the women’s communities and territories have been stopped in their tracks.
WECAN delegation member Casey Camp Horinek also spoke after the series of presentations by Amazonian women, recounting experiences of colonization, discrimination and dire environmental damages at the hands of the fossil fuel industry in her Oklahoma, USA community – with the intent of providing insights and support to the women of the Amazon working to prevent similar mal-development and destruction in their homelands.
A tribute was held in honor of Berta Caceres, the Honduran Indigenous environmental leader killed the previous week over her work defending rights and territories from privatization, plantations, and mega dam projects.
After the series of powerful testaments from regional women leaders and allies, the women began to assemble to march, spilling out of the school and onto the street.
Mujeres Sapara – presente! Mujeres Shuar – presente! Mujeres Kichwa – presente! Mujeres Waroni– presente! Porque mobilizamos? Por la vida! La selva no se vende, la selva se defiende.
Sapara women – present! Shuar women – present! Kichwa women – present! Waroni women – present! Why are we mobilizing? For life! Don’t sell the forest, defend the forest.
An estimated 500 women moved forward through the city with fierce determination, holding children, leaves and plants representing the forest, and signs with powerful statements and heart wrenching photos of oil contamination and flares.
As the march unfolded, the Ecuadorian government and Andes Petroleum convened a meeting in the nearby town of Shell in an attempt to organize an entry into Sapara territory, knowing that key leaders were away from home attending the march. Outraged, a delegation of Sapara returned to Shell to deliver a letter to the meeting, underscoring their opposition to the new oil project and the governments exploitative attempts to divide the community by falsly claiming there was community consent. The Sapara successfully thwarted the plans to enter their lands, and returned to the growing march.
“We are here as the Indigenous women of the Ecuadorian Amazon on this day, the 8th of March, because it is an opportunity, with our presence, demonstrating, to leave messages for the whole world that we, the women of the Ecuadorian Amazon do not want petroleum exploitation, we do not want destruction, we want respect for our rights as Indigenous people of the Amazon. So that is why we are here, shouting, angry but happy as well,” explained Rosa Ruiz, a Sapara leader from the community of Torimbo, which is inside the new ‘Block 83’ oil concession.
After hours of marching across the scorching Amazonian city, the women convened again in a central square to raise their voices, share experiences and make plans to protect the Amazon and their diverse communities into the future – vowing to never step down in defense of the living forest and their families and culture.
The following day the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network delegation returned to the capital city of Quito, Ecuador with a van full of Indigenous women leaders and allies from Pachamama Alliance/Terra Matter, strategizing together on the road winding from the edge of the Amazonian plains up switchback curves into the Andean mountains.
The women discussed the critical need to organize ongoing meetings between the women leaders of the seven nationalities and beyond, their conversation underscoring a potency of force and ability to unite across all other divisions seen as lacking amongst male leaders, but displayed brilliantly by the women during the previous day’s march. Plans began to get news and photos of the march and forum out to other women in remote areas to help bring strength and a sense of support to those facing threats and divisions at the hands of extractive industries on a daily basis.
Upon return to Quito, the women presented an evening event, ‘Women of Ecuadorian Amazon and International Allies Stand For Protection of the Amazon Rainforest’ at FLASCO University.
Casey Camp Horinek and Osprey Orielle Lake presented opening talks linking the social, ecologic and climate crisis and detailing the central role of women in just climate solutions from Latin America to North America and across the world.
They then passed the floor to Narcissa Mashenta, Shuar maternal health provider of Morona-Santiago.
“We as Amazonian women, we work to guard our forest, our land, because women feel that we ourselves are Earth, we are forest, and our children must have safe and healthy air to breathe.”
“Take care of the little bit of the pure Amazon that is left to us, that exists in Pastaza and Morona- Santiago and amongst the other nationalities where there is still sacred Earth, the waterfalls, the rivers that are not contaminated, where our children can bathe safely, the waters that our children need, and which their children will also need.”
Her comments were followed by those of Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sapara Women, FLASCO university professors and directors, and Belen Paez of Terra Matter who was a central organizer in all the events.
Students, activists, political officials and teachers from Quito and a host of international bodies and Indigenous communities packed the room and engaged in questions and discussion throughout.
Together across borders and communities, allies united this International Women’s Day to stand for the living forest and the women guardians standing for justice for the Earth and their peoples.
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network is honored to partner with Amazon Watch who has a 20 year history of work in the region and with the Sapara people and Kichwa of Sarayaku to expand longtime collaboration – and together to move forward with the momentum of International Women’s Day action to bring forth an end to extraction in the Amazon.
- Petition – No Extraction In The Amazon! Women of Ecuadorian Amazon and International Allies Reject Oil Concessions, Stand For Rights of the Earth and Communities
- EcoWatch – Women of the Amazon Defend Their Homeland Against New Oil Contract on International Women’s Day
- Press Release – Over Five-Hundred Indigenous Women of the Amazon and Allies March for Climate Justice, Indigenous Rights on International Women’s Day
- Full WECAN International Women’s Day Ecuador photo album