Deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, an Indigenous group has scored a major win against extraction companies and injustice
Indigenous leaders across the globe are winning gamechanging environmental victories against the odds. In our ‘guardians of the wild’ series, we hear from those who have defeated oil companies, cancelled mining contracts and won the right to stewardship of millions of acres of land, risking their lives to protect the wildest places on our planet.
Alex Lucitante and Alexandra Narváez, Ecuador
The ancestral territory of Alex Lucitante and Alexandra Narváez lies deep in the tropical rainforest of northern Ecuador, one of the most richly biodiverse places on Earth. The Cofán way of life consists of hunting, wild harvesting and subsistence farming, and depends on the 1,500sq miles of tropical forest, glacial lagoons, snow-capped mountains and rich wetlands that they call home.
“Our territory feeds us and nourishes us spiritually, it gives us everything we need to live,” says Alex Lucitante (main picture), who is from a family of traditional healers.
In 2017, the Cofán found heavy excavating machinery on their lands, and upon further investigation, discovered that the Ecuadorian government had issued 20 large-scale mining concessions [permits], with a further 32 pending, without informing or consulting the Cofán.
The two young Cofán leaders spearheaded a plan. The community began patrolling their territory with drones to record the impact of mining on their land. They publicised their work online, generating international support for their cause. They then fled a lawsuit against the government for violating the rights of nature as recognised by the Ecuadorian constitution.
“We have always maintained the principle that our territory cannot be sold or negotiated, our territory is sacred,” explains Lucitante.
Narváez told Positive News she started the action “to defend life, to defend the Amazon”. Sacred territories such as this are “the lungs of the world”, she says.
With just 250 Cofán people standing up against the gold mining companies, the battle felt “like David and Goliath”, says Narváez.
After many months of campaigning, in July 2018, Ecuador’s courts ruled that the mining permits had been illegally granted without the Cofán people’s consent. All 52 concessions were cancelled overnight. The landmark legal victory had protected 79,000 acres of primary rainforest from gold mining, setting a precedent that bolsters the rights of all traditional stewards protecting the Amazon.
We have always maintained the principle that our territory cannot be sold, our territory is sacred
The pair were awarded the 2022 Goldman environmental prize – known as the ‘green Nobel’ – for their efforts. “Now the survival of our people is guaranteed,” says Lucitante.
Narváez believes their victory is something for the whole world to celebrate. “All Indigenous people and nationalities won, so this represents a historic moment for all,” she says. “We all walk on the same land so let’s unite. Because the future that we are fighting for belongs to all of us.”
Main image: Goldman environmental prize
This article is the first in our ‘guardians of the wild’ series. Over the coming weeks Positive News will be shining a light on the Indigenous groups that are scoring major victories for people and planet.