Eye on the Amazon

Ese Eja: A Young Nation Guided by Ancestral Vision

Our Amazon Defender's Fund supports Indigenous sovereignty during the COVID-19 pandemic

During COVID-19, all global crises have compounded against the already precarious lives of Indigenous peoples. The health systems in the nine countries sharing the Amazon have collapsed, and they are not able to cover the needs of its urban populations, let alone the historically neglected health system that is meant to address Indigenous people's needs. As of August 25th, the Red Eclesial Panamazonia (REPAM) reports that COVID-19 has killed 1,556 Indigenous people, and there had been 47,623 recorded cases, with the majority in Brazil. The pandemic has affected at least 223 Indigenous nations in the Amazon so far.

Our Amazon Defenders Fund (ADF) is a solidarity fund guided by Indigenous people's priorities to protect the Amazon and uphold collective rights at the local, national, and regional levels. The ADF responds to projects that have limited access to funding. It provides an effective channel to mobilize rapid response support and resources that address our partners' vision through short- and long-term processes of strategizing, organizing, and developing solutions. The ADF also supports allied grassroots movements by Afro-descendant organizations, riverside dwellers, and traditional peoples.

One Amazonian nation that has prioritized addressing collective needs in their community during the pandemic has been the Ese Eja. Cesar Augusto Jojaje, a leader of the Ese Eja People, had a vision to reunite the Ese Eja who had been dispersed in communities along the Tambopata and Heath Rivers, near Puerto Maldonado in the southern Peruvian Amazon near Bolivia. It is now a young nation with a clear political vision, solid organizing, and communal ties.

With a direct grant from the ADF, the Ese Eja have equipped their health posts with oxygen concentrators in each of their communities, dug water wells, and strengthened river transportation between communities using small canoes. "Our communities now have oxygen concentrators and basic health equipment that even some larger centralized hospitals do not have," shared Cesar Augusto.

Cesar came from a family with spiritual roots, as he puts it. He remembers his grandfather, Felipe Jojaje, as a great shaman who harnessed the power of water, sun, earth, forest, air, and the sky. "I grew up seeing the world amid a living culture where everything was connected. The forest and our people were connected." But the rubber industry divided the nation of Ese Eja. Governments then created borders between Bolivia and Peru, next to the river Heath and the so-called national natural reserves in Peru. "The Heath River is the flow of life for the Ese Eja. Our territory is not a border or a national natural reserve. It is our ancestral land, which embraces us all, and we all embrace it, too." Cesar, along with the scattered communities, rebuilt the political and social collective memory of the Ese Eja ancestral communal land, which they called territorio integral, or holistic territory.

With their communal ties and collective work mindset, the Ese Eja people have survived for millennia. As with other Indigenous nations, the Ese Eja will continue to pursue a reciprocal relationship of spiritual, social, and environmental life with the Earth. Indigneous communities inspire solutions to counteract the destructive climate chaos we are facing from increasing deforestation, fires, flooding, industrial extraction, and agribusiness expansion. As we look forward and attempt to address climate change, we'd be wise to follow the ancestral vision of communities like the Ese Eja.

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