Musician and Activist Nahko Travels To the Amazon To Build Bridges of Indigenous Solidarity

Nahko visits Ecuador's remote Amazon rainforest to use music and cultural exchange to connect Indigenous resistance movements from Mount Shasta to Standing Rock to the Amazon

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Photo credit: Natalie Starr van Zelm
Trip photos and videos available here

Nahko, the musician and frontman of Medicine for the People, and his bandmate Patricio Zuñiga Labarca have just returned to the U.S. after a week in Ecuador, where they visited the pristine rainforests of the Ecuadorian Amazon and met with Indigenous leaders and communities to hear first hand about local efforts to protect their rights, forests, and cultures, and shared stories and empowerment through music.

Nahko has long been connecting his own diverse roots – he is of Apache descent, as well Puerto Rican, and Filipino and Guam heritage – with Indigenous peoples and social movements across North America and beyond wherever the band tours, linking struggles to defend the sacred, protect water, and life. Weaving together his life experiences and journeys, he has created powerful uplifting music that pays tribute to Indigenous rights, environmental protection, social justice, and spiritual awakening. He traveled three times to the territory of the Standing Rock Sioux, joining efforts to block the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which became the focus of his latest music video for his "Love Letters to God".

Accompanied by Amazon Watch founder and board president Atossa Soltani, the group first met, upon arriving in Quito, leaders of the Shuar Arutam Federation, who shared their intense state of tension and fear in Shuar territory. The Shuar are engaged in a high-profile dispute against a Chinese copper mine slated for land overlapping their ancestral territory in the Cordillera del Condor region.

The musicians then traveled to the territory of the Achuar Indigenous nation, staying at community-run lodge and world-class ecotourism destination Kapawi, and performing at the Kapawi community's annual festival. The Achuar have been on the front lines of the struggle to keep out oil companies from entering their territories.

Nahko and Patricio continued on to Sarayaku, meeting with the Kichwa community that has successfully stopped the entry of oil companies for decades. The community shared with the artists their visionary Kawsak Sacha, or "living forest," proposal, which seeks permanent legal protection for the biological and spiritual integrity of their sacred territory by prohibiting entry of extractive industries.

As Patricia Gualinga of Sarayaku said, "Welcoming Nahko to our land has been wonderful for the members of Sarayaku. During his visit we have shared friendship and music, and our eagerness and hope for a future that respects the rights of the original peoples and of mother earth and nature. Nahko's standing with the Shuar people and with the persecuted leaders like Agustin Wachapá, weaves solidarity between peoples, friends, activists and artists and gives more strength to continue fighting with dignity."

Nahko's trip to Ecuador comes on the heels of off-tour visits to New Zealand where he met with Māori Indigenous peoples, and then Chile, visiting lands of Patricio's Mapuche relatives.

"It is in our blood to be stewards and protectors and to reawaken our own people to the responsibility we have to Pachamama," said Nahko. "We see it as our responsibility to use our influence and our music to encourage and empower other people to become more aware and to find purpose within themselves to protect and to become stewards of Pachamama. We stand in solidarity with Sarayaku protecting and defending the living forest and with the Achuar and Shuar people who we also met. We understand the importance of giving the same kind of rights that we as human beings have to the rest of creation. We encourage our viewers and fans to educate themselves on alternative forms of energy and to put pressure on political leaders to make it possible for all of our communities to live off of sustainable energy so that places like Sarayaku are no longer under attack and can live as they are."

"I am delighted to have brought Nahko and Patricio to the Amazon to see first hand the beauty of the ancient living forests of the Amazon, which are in such dire need of protection from extractive industries. It was a dream come true to see them sharing music, stories and friendships with visionary Indigenous stewards in the midst of this epic rainforest. I know inspiration from the Amazon will forever infuse their music and help awaken the world about the importance of protecting this place," said Atossa Soltani.

His final evening in Ecuador culminated with a gathering of artists and activists of the Yasunidos collective, who are working to protect Yasuni National Park from oil extraction. Yasuni is widely considered the most biodiverse place on earth and is home to two Indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. Yet there are eight oil concessions overlapping Yasuni and the government plans to open some 200+ new wells in the most sensitive part of the park. Yasunidos released a new video showing that the government has not only failed to comply with minimum environmental standards, but the area affected by drilling is much greater than promised.

Nahko announced to Sarayaku that he will be working on new songs inspired by his visit to the Amazon.

Atossa and Nahko met in 2013 and planned to visit the Amazon one day. Since 2014, Amazon Watch has partnered with Nahko in supporting and celebrating the work of Indigenous peoples of the Amazon to protect their rights, territories, and our global climate.

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