Eye on the Amazon

These Nine Indigenous Voices Are Inspiring Us Right Now

From everyone at Amazon Watch, we wish you a happy International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples!

We are deeply appreciative for the honor of collaborating with indigenous peoples, organizations, and activists, from around the Amazon rainforest and elsewhere. It is extraordinary to find common cause in high-stakes human dramas that, we believe, will help shape the future of the entire planet.

The struggles of indigenous peoples often center on collective rights such as self-determination, territory, and control of the environment in which they live. In highlighting the following nine individual indigenous voices, we recognize that there is danger given the context of collective peoples and struggles. Each person featured here is one of many who are doing amazing work together, on the particular indigenous rights campaigns mentioned and on many more.

All that said, allow us to introduce several amazing people we are looking to right now for inspiration. We collaborate with some on an ongoing basis. Others are activists we have yet to have the pleasure of meeting. All are profound voices to which the world should be listening.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Nina Gualinga of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku (Ecuadorian Amazon)

Nina moves effortlessly between disparate worlds. On one hand, she is an integral member of Sarayaku, one of the strongest communities we support in their epic battle for indigenous rights. She is also a law student in Sweden, where she speaks Swedish and English. In late 2014, Nina's testimony from her territory went global as the subject of the Keep The Oil In The Ground video, which has been viewed almost two million times. We're honored to announce that Nina is also an Amazon Watch Youth Ambassador.

For updated information about Sarayaku, see their Spanish language website.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Ademir Kaba of the Munduruku people (Brazilian Amazon)

The stakes for the Munduruku, and the Brazilian Amazon, couldn't be higher. They are fighting to establish their legal title over lands they have long occupied. The outcome could determine whether or not the Tapajós River is dammed and important cultural sites for the Munduruku are lost forever. This is one of the messages Ademir took to Europe on a June advocacy visit to Paris and Geneva we co-organized with International Rivers. In addition to direct meetings with high-level corporate and UN officials, the trip prompted press coverage in The Guardian: Brazilian Indigenous Leader to Address UN Council In Effort To Stop Dam.

One inspiring aspect of Ademir's story: He lived in Belén city for over a decade, achieving a social sciences degree at the Federal University of Pará. In 2007, however, he moved back to his village, where today he is a coordinator of the Resistant Munduruku Movement – Ipereg Ayu – and an elementary school teacher.

For updated information about the Munduruku, see their Portuguese language website.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Aura Tegría of the U'wa people (Colombian cloud forests)

For almost 20 years, we have proudly accompanied dozens of U'wa leaders and community members during their world-famous battle against oil drilling in their territory. Since early 2014, Aura has been a crucial U'wa representative within Colombia and at high level meetings at the U.N. and Organization of American States. Just last week she traveled to Panamá to present ongoing threats the U'wa face to the president of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. These are long-terms processes, but seeing the growth of talented and committed young leaders like Aura help to sustain our hope.

Watch: Aura reflecting on her advocacy visit to the United States in 2014.

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Peas Peas Ayui of the Achuar people (Peruvian Amazon)

The Achuar people, whose territory is split by the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border, have seen first-hand what an environmental and health disaster oil drilling can bring. The Corrientes River, contaminated over four decades, is a prime example. Having learned from that experience, the neighboring Achuar communities of the Pastaza River basin have successfully resisted oil incursions. In recent years, the leadership of Peas Peas Ayui has been fundamental to warding off latent threats, especially the unwelcome incursion by Canada's Talisman Energy. Peas took the fight to the oil corporation's doorstep, traveling to Calgary and elsewhere in Canada in order to drive home the message that the Achuar don't want oil operations on their lands. After a 5-year campaign that garnered increased grassroots support, Talisman announced its departure in September of 2012. The threats still exist, however, and Peas led the fight until recently stepping down as President of the Achuar federation FENAP. We will continue to support the new generation of Achuar leadership and will never forget the fire Peas brought to their campaign.

Watch: Peas was featured in a Univisión video titled Beneath the Canopy: The Achuar Fight Back Against Big Oil And Climate Change

Photo credit: Amazon Watch

Emergildo Criollo of the Cofán people (Ecuadorian Amazon)

As a leader of the Cofán Nation, Emergildo has been a relentless advocate for his people, speaking out about oil giant Chevron's toxic legacy in his territory. Representing the affected communities in Ecuador, he has confronted Texaco and Chevron senior management many times and made countless international advocacy trips to meet with shareholders, governments and the media. Despite the devastating personal loss of two children to Chevron's deliberate contamination, he continues to fight for justice. Even as he continues the epic battle to hold Chevron accountable, Emergildo isn't waiting for a cleanup that seems always on the horizon. Emergildo has taken matters into his own hands, helping to bring clean water to thousands of indigenous people who have suffered without for decades thanks to The ClearWater Project. Established in late 2011 as an Amazon Watch project, ClearWater was a response to Emergildo's clarion call for clean water, since access to this basic necessity is a matter of life and death.

Watch: Take a journey with Cofan leader Emergildo Criollo

Photo credit: Spiritualution

Naelyn Pike of the Chiricahua Apache people (Arizona, United States)

Amazonian indigenous peoples are not alone in the threats they face from extractive industries in their sacred territories. Apache territory at Oak Flat in Arizona is at risk from a multi-national mining corporation that was authorized in a shady midnight deal in the U.S. Senate. Now Apache community members are fighting back, including powerful youth activists like Naelyn, through the Apache Stronghold movement.

At a recent rally in Washington, DC attended by Amazon Watch staff, Naelyn electrified the crowd with her clarity and determination. "If they take Oak Flat away, they're taking a piece of my heart away," she told the crowd of hundreds of supporters. "They're taking my identity away – but I'm not going to let that happen. If I die, I die a proud Apache woman because I fought like my ancestors!" Unsurprisingly, Naelyn's inherent charisma along with the power of a growing movement to defend Oak Flat has attracted media attention from outlets like The New York Times and Rolling Stone.

Watch: A riveting presentation Naelyn gave as she prepared to march across the country

Dallas Goldtooth

Dallas Goldtooth of the Mdewakanton Dakota and Dińe peoples (Based in Chicago, IL, United States)

Organizer. Poet. Activist. Father. Comedian. Dallas is truly a multi-faceted character. We know him through his work with Indigenous Environmental Network, where he collaborates with his father Tom, another extraordinary activist. You might know him for his role in the comedy troupe the 1491s. If not, we'd highly recommend you watching any of their videos, such as this humorous take on an otherwise unhumorous topic: cultural appropriation.

Watch: Dallas speaking out against the Keystone XL pipeline in a media interview

Tara Houska

Tara Houska is Ojibwe from Couchiching First Nation (Based in Washington DC, United States)

By day, she's an attorney specializing in tribal rights and representing tribes throughout the United States on issues of self-governance, sovereignty, and economic development. In her spare time, Tara dedicates herself to a number of social justice campaigns. Primarily, she has emerged as one of the spokespeople in the #NotYourMascots movement, most well known for their high-profile campaign to #ChangeTheName of the Washington, DC football team. Tara recently penned a sharp take-down of a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece that claimed mascots honor Native Americans. Tara was also featured on a famous Daily Show segment about the Redsk*ns name. Beyond extensive media work, she is also known to organize protests at football games, a hazardous endeavor given the belligerence with which fans often react to criticism. In the spirit of a holistic indigenous worldview, she also supports environmental justice efforts like the campaign to stop Keystone XL pipeline.

Watch: Tara describes what it's like for Native Americans to attend a Redsk*ns tailgate

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez speaking at the United Nations

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez raised in the Mexica / Aztec tradition (Based in Boulder, CO, United States)

Instead of reading anything we might write, simply watch this call to action around climate change Xiuhtezcatl offered a captivated United Nations audience. Keep in mind: he's 15 years old. Then check out Earth Guardians, of which he is the Youth Director.

Watch: Indigenous Climate Activist at the High-level event on Climate Change

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