Return of the Achuar to Turtle Island
April 27, 2012 | Andrew E. Miller
At the outset of an international advocacy mission featuring Amazon Watch's indigenous partners, a million things can go wrong: Visas can be denied, flights can be missed, travelers can be detained by immigration officials, etc. So our team was relieved to see our Peruvian allies appear at the Ottawa airport's baggage claim. They emerged near an indoor waterfall, evoking the sacred waterfall featured in the new documentary Chumpi and the Waterfall. The Achuar had again returned to Turtle Island – as Canada is known by some of its First Peoples – to continue their struggle for self-determination within their Amazonian homeland.
The warm welcome among friends soon collided with the harsh reality of Ottawa's frigid climate. Just outside the airport doors awaited a first taste of the inhospitable and alien environment that the Achuar would have to endure.
Such was the beginning to the fourth Achuar delegation to Canada in as many years. Whereas oil companies want to operate with impunity in indigenous territories, we help courageous communities bring their demands directly to their corporate headquarters. This time, it's Talisman Energy, which has held designs on the oil within Achuar lands since 2004. This delegation is the most ambitious yet, starting in Ottawa, the locus of Canadian political power.
Expanding the Achuar's network of supporters into the Canadian Parliament is our main mission. The delegates were welcomed by Members of Parliament from several opposition parties, including the New Democrats, the Liberals, and the Greens. This reflects a general receptiveness to the Achuar's case in Canada, in part because Talisman is known to many Canadians for having provoked severe human rights violations in Sudan.
In a press conference held from within the Canadian Parliament building, Achuar leader Peas Peas Ayui listed several of the major concerns that Talisman's presence in their territory has raised. "The Canadian oil company Talisman is currently causing serious social and environmental problems that impact the Achuar population," Peas said. "Talisman is creating divisions within the community. This is a strategy that Talisman applies in order to create conflicts and weaken us."
Unfortunately, Talisman is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Canadian mining, gas, and oil companies with extremely problematic operations throughout Latin America and elsewhere. Coinciding with our visit was an Ottawa protest against Barrick Gold and other campaigning activities around the Goldcorp, Inc, notorious for the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. All of this activity moved one Member of Parliament to issue an apology to the Achuar for the behavior of Canadian multi-nationals.
With this, the campaign to compel Talisman to respect the Achuar's collective rights is catching fire. In the coming weeks, as the Achuar travel across Canada, more allies will join the cause. Talisman may hold a vain hope that their public relations efforts can neutralize this resurgent grassroots campaign, but the Achuar have a much longer-term vision, and they aren't planning to stop defending their homelands any time soon.