A message from Gloria Ushigua,
President of the Association of Sapara Women of Ecuador “Ashiniawka”
I am Gloria Ushigua, I belong to the Sapara people of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Our ancestral territory used to be huge. Now it has been reduced to 400,000 hectares – but it is still an an area of incredible bio-diversity and uncontaminated natural heritage. I have walked the expanse of my territory. In it you will find oil, wood and minerals. We have always firmly rejected any exploitation project. These resources will remain underground.
Under the ground there are living beings, in the rivers too, in the mountains… they live… they are like us. I defend my land for them too.
Defending our lands against oil companies
Since the 11th Oil-Licensing Round in 2012, there have been attempts to impose oil exploitation projects that violate our right to self-determination, amongst others rights.
The Round opened the bidding of 16 blocks for the exploration and exploitation of crude oil. The entire Sapara territory is included in 7 of these blocks (Blocks 74, 79, 80, 83, 84, 86, 87). Over the past 8 years there has been increased pressures and serious violation of our rights in order to create the conditions for oil extraction.
In 2016 the Ecuadorian State and the Chinese-owned oil consortium Andes Petroleum signed two exploration and exploitation contracts for blocks 79 and 83. The consultation process that took place was flawed by irregularities and illegalities and did not respect the standards of the right to informed consent.
Due to the resistance of the Sapara people, the Andes Petroleum project was paralyzed. However, we are now demanding that the state and the company cancel the current contracts that continue to be a potential threat to our territory and our culture.
In our history, the Sapara people have lost a lot of territory. We lost many Saparas in the rubber exploitation too, my people have been decimated. But we are still alive. For years my people have been fighting to preserve their culture.
At risk of extinction
Our cultural heritage was recognized in 2001 by UNESCO. Today, there are just three guardians of our language left. This means that the Sapara nation could seen be extinct. This was expressed by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
My ancestors and my communities always support me to defend our territory. Why? For our children. In the future we want them to be as happy as we have been.
Before colonization and before climate change, the forest gave us everything we needed. When I was younger, I didn’t need to go to the city. The forest gave us: food, medicine, education… everything.
I carry within me the knowledge that my ancestors left me, it gives me strength to continue defending my territory and it accompanies me in the spiritual side as well.
Facing the pandemic with ancestral knowledge
The Covid-19 pandemic reached the Ecuadorian Amazon and Sapara territory as well. We were very afraid. But little by little we faced the pandemic with courage, drawing on our ancestral knowledge. We have used the medicinal plants of the forest and sometimes conventional medicines.
We have not received support from the state; thanks to national and international solidarity we have been able to move forward and guarantee our basic needs as well.
The latest threat from the extractive frontier is the cutting of balsa trees. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased illegal logging throughout the Amazon. My people have blocked the entry to the logging companies, declaring once again our territory free of all types of extractivist activity.
We are not afraid
I am a woman. It has been more complicated to enter the decision-making processes. And the voice of women is not yet heard as it should be.
I suffered harassment and pressure from the state and the company because of my resistance.
I was not afraid. These are our rights. The rights of Indigenous Peoples are never put into practice. I am human. We are brown, like the earth. I am not afraid. I want to leave a good history for those who will come in the future.
The international solidarity of other peoples and organizations has been of fundamental importance in our struggle.
As long as I can still walk, I will defend my land.
I want to leave a message for all the Indigenous Peoples of the world. We need to come together more, to support each other in the struggle.
From 2-9 December Land Rights Now and organizations worldwide will come together to raise awareness of how securing land rights for Indigenous Peoples and local communities are key to protecting bio-diversity and preventing pandemics.
About Gloria Ushigua
Gloria Ushigua is the president of the Ashiniawka, the Association of Sapara Women of Ecuador. She is a defender of human rights, women’s rights, and nature rights, and has a long history of peaceful and legitimate work in the defense of the rights of her people.
Ashiniawka was founded in 2009. Its objectives are the defense of the cultural and territorial heritage of Sapara through the strengthening of women’s rights. The association promotes the equitable participation of women in political, cultural and social spaces.
Despite the defamation campaigns, intimidation and threats that the Association and its President have suffered, the women of Ashiniawka continue with their purpose and their commitment to preserve their culture and their home, the Amazon.
Leonardo DiCaprio marches with Gloria Ushigua and Chief Manari Ushigua. Credit: Ayse Gürsöz/IEN