Eye on the Amazon: The Official Blog of Amazon Watch
October 17, 2011 | Hank Edson, AW Volunteer
In celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day last week, I have been blogging about the role of indigenous peoples in the global environmental movement. I first discussed the many reasons indigenous peoples are a leading force in the global environmental movement. Part II in the series focused on a visionary contribution indigenous peoples are making in advancing the legal rights of nature and I called attention to two examples of how indigenous rights can be violated by those who champion the rights of nature: the recent violent suppression of an indigenous protest march by the government of Bolivia and the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) movement's failure to recognize and protect indigenous rights. Today, I want to tell you about the work Amazon Watch is doing to steer Bolivia and the REDD movement in a wiser, more humane and more effective direction.
As noted in last week's post, on September 25th the Bolivian government violently suppressed a 400-mile protest march by the indigenous communities being directly affected by the construction of a highway through their land, also a national park, without their consent. Aware of the mounting tension over the highway's construction, Amazon Watch co-authored and delivered a letter to the Bolivian government four days before the violence broke out. The letter was signed by 60 other leading international environmental organizations and asked the Bolivian government to respect the rights being asserted by the indigenous protestors.
In making this request, the letter discussed at length Bolivia's history of leadership and its important present role in the global environmental and nature rights movements. The letter also detailed at length the interwoven environmental and social consequences of violating the rights of the indigenous communities threatened by the highway's construction. Given the large number of resignations resulting from the government's violent conduct and the subsequent halt of the flow of funding for the highway project from the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES), the Bolivian government probably wishes it had taken the Amazon Watch letter more seriously to heart.
October 13, 2011 | Hank Edson, AW Volunteer
Yesterday, I blogged about a number of reasons indigenous peoples are a leading force in the movement to achieve balance and harmony in human society's relationship with the environment. An important example of Amazonian indigenous leadership with respect to the environment is its contribution to the Rights of Nature movement.
In 2008, Ecuador adopted a new constitution that includes a chapter specifically devoted to the Rights of Nature and that establishes as a principle of law that "Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain itself and regenerate its own vital cycles, structures, functions and evolutionary processes." The Ecuadorian constitution also gives nature "the right to be completely restored." Under the Constitution's Rights of Nature chapter, the government of Ecuador is obligated to take action to ensure the protection of these rights and the Ecuadorian people are given the right to benefit from the environment. These provisions give legal expression to the indigenous understanding of Pachamama as a living entity in itself that also embraces all living beings, all of whom manifest the same dignity and command the same rights as human beings intuitively recognize themselves to possess.
Ecuador's triumphant expansion of rights to include Pachamama was followed in January 2010 by Bolivia, which passed the world's first law granting nature equal rights with humans. In April that same year, Bolivia hosted the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. The highlight achievement of this conference was the adoption of a "Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth." Bolivia then submitted the Declaration to the United Nations with the hope that it will be adopted as a companion to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
October 12, 2011 | Hank Edson, AW Volunteer
Two weeks ago I blogged about the outstanding cast of rainforest guardians working at Amazon Watch, who over the last few months I have had the opportunity to get to know as an Amazon Watch volunteer. In honor of Indigenous Peoples Day, I'd like to tell you about the real rainforest guardians – the indigenous peoples who call the Amazon their home, the people who know the Amazon intimately as a kindred being, not just a place of far off beauty and power. I'd like to tell you why it is important that I, Amazon Watch, and everyone promoting an environmentalist agenda, make the foundation of our activism a strong partnership with the indigenous peoples who still retain an authentic, sustainable connection to the ecosystems we hope to save, nurture and preserve.
It helps if we begin by acknowledging our own relationship with the Amazon out here in the blogosphere: It is as distant as a Google Earth satellite view of South America. As it turns out, however, even miles above the planet, we can deduce the important role indigenous peoples of the Amazon play in preserving the rainforest. If we look at a satellite picture of the Amazon rainforest basin overlaid with a map of indigenous owned land in the Amazon, it is hard not to notice that the indigenous-held land is green with forest while much of the surrounding land is deforested and brown. Fortunately, indigenous territories comprise more than a quarter of the Amazon basin, which means that all this land is in the hands of environmentally competent stewards. Without the many successes in the growing indigenous rights movement establishing indigenous title to many important ancestral territories, the outlook for the preservation of the Amazon might be significantly gloomier than it is today.
The indigenous of the Amazon have been excellent environmental stewards for thousands of years. One of the many challenges that come with living in the Amazon is its notoriously poor soil, which is quickly leached of most of its nutrient value. However, throughout the Amazon basin a different kind of soil, terra preta do Indio (black soil of the indigenous), can also be found, which is extremely fertile. Chemist Bruno Glaser marvels at the pre-Columbian Amazonian indigenous culture that created terra preta: "They practiced agriculture here for centuries. But instead of destroying the soil, they improved it – and that is something we don't know how to do today."
October 10, 2011 | Andrew E. Miller
Take Action Now!
Tell your representatives in Congress to oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
Is it ironic, or supremely appropriate? This Columbus Day (October 12th), the U.S. Congress will debate and vote on a free trade agreement that has been called "a serious threat against the indigenous peoples that inhabit Colombian territory."
If you haven't already, please send a quick email to your Congressional Representative and Senators in opposition to the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. At a minimum, please take the online action alert set up by our friends at Latin America Working Group (LAWG).
October 9, 2011 | Zoë Tryon
I am standing in the Kichwa indigenous village of Rumipamba, breathing heavy air laden with the scent of oil, watching fathers, mothers, aunts work in the oppressive heat, cleaning up the crude that has been contaminating their ancestral lands for the last 40 years. The Kichwa hadn't even been informed what was happening when Texaco (now Chevron) came to drill for oil on their land; they hadn't been consulted when Texaco filled an unlined pit with crude and waste chemicals uphill from the village. When heavy tropical rains filled up the pit and the sides split sending crude spilling all through their waterways – no one came to clean it up. Forty years later the Ecuadorian government have given the people a machine which bubbles air though the mud and water, separating the crude and mud, then, they painstakingly scrape away the crude from the surface of the water, filling barrels as children play nearby.
Before 1964 when Texaco (now Chevron) discovered oil in the remote, pristine Northern Ecuadorian Amazon the rainforest was an area of "alpha diversity" meaning that scientists have since recognized this area as being one of the most biologically diverse in the world. The ancestral custodians of the forest the Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Kichwa and Waorani indigenous peoples, lived traditional lifestyles largely untouched by modern civilization. They hunted, fished, and their shaman (medicine men) used medicinal plants from the forest to cure all known illnesses, enjoying a rich spiritual and cultural life.
The cultures of indigenous people the world over are expressions of the ecosystems in which the cultures are embedded. The indigenous peoples language, food, music and governance are all informed by the vast rainforests in which they live. To the indigenous peoples of the Amazon the forest is their pharmacy, their hardware store, their grocery. Their profound and intimate knowledge is passed down and built upon over generations of observing and learning from Nature through experience. The rain forest is the source of wisdom, and life, humans are sustained by it, and are as much a part of the web of life as the mighty Kapok tree, Jaguar, Howler monkey or Pink dolphin.
As a child I dreamed of living with indigenous peoples in the Amazon. After studying Anthropology at Sydney University, and working with Amazon foundations I finally got my chance. I lived with the Achuar people in the South Central Ecuadorian Amazon and fell deeply in love with these warrior peoples, their worldviews, and way of life. They lived as their ancestors had done, with deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all life, be it human, flora or fauna.