Waorani Leader Nominated As A 2020 TIME100 Honoree Blazes A Trail For The Protection Of The Amazon

Everyone remembers the triumphal victory of the Ecuadorian Amazon Indigenous people in last year’s historic lawsuit of the Waorani Organization of Pastaza (CONCONAWEP) against several ministries of the Ecuadorian government who wanted to sell Waorani lands to oil companies. The passionate Nemonte Nenquimo, first female president of CONCONAWEP and co-founder of the Ceibo Alliance, united the nations of Ecuador’s northern Amazon Rainforest A’I Kofan, Secopai, Secoya, and Waorani. In her fight, not only did she save thousands of homes from immediate destruction, but also prevented the oil drilling of half-a-million of acres of primary rainforest for an indefinite period of time. On the 22 September 2020, Nenquimo, alongside everything she represents, features in the famous TIME100 and stands in the list of the 100 most influential people of 2020 as the only Indigenous woman.

Mitch Anderson, Amazon Frontlines’ Executive Director & Founder, declares that this recognition “shines a light on the collective struggles of Indigenous peoples who are putting their bodies on the line to fight against the most pressing threats facing the Amazon and our climate.” Talking about the exposure of Nemonte Nenquimo’s fight in the Pastaza province to the readership of the Time that reaches 26 million, José Gregorio Diaz Mirabal points out that “as Indigenous peoples, we have demonstrated our critical role in the protection of the balance of life and our planet.” The member of COICA, the coordinating body of Indigenous organizations across the nine-country Amazon basin, also adds that “our fight against the tougher pandemic of extractivism threatening our territories and our survival continues.” Those declarations highlight the crucial global resonance the Time accolade had and promise many actions to be taken in the years to come by Indigenous groups against the atrocious destruction of the Amazon rainforest by oil exploitation.

It is a secret to none of us that Nemonte Nenquimo is now a role-model and that her actions inspire new efficient solutions for the protection of Waorani culture and environmental conservation of its lands. Indeed, the battle to save the Amazon jungle continues with what the Ceibo Alliance had started doing to collect evidence for the 2019 lawsuit, inventing advanced technological territorial mapping as well as clean water projects, both to monitor the environmental aspect of the region. She also invites women to take part in global development, showing that she has been listening and affirming that “this recognition […] gives me a lot of strength on behalf of all the women who are fighting on this planet. We want to unite.”

Nenquimo picked up her combat from her elders, ‘Pikenani’, especially from her grandfather who defended the Yasuni national rainforest against Texaco oil company together with 30,000 local residents of the Amazon. The pouring of 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and 17 gallons of crude oil by Texaco in the 1960s was a point of no return that provoked the death of biodiversity and carried diseases that have been linked to birth defects and cancer amongst the local population.

Seeing the name of Nemonte Nenquimo in the TIME100 is monumental. Powerfully attesting that the territory of the Waorani from Napo to Curaray is not for sale, the Waorani want to emphasize in a public statement that “this recognition is for all Amazonian Indigenous Peoples and for those who are fighting against contempt, dispossession, racism, violence, extractivism and colonialism throughout the world.” The Amazon forest is the lungs of the Earth and respecting the rights of the peoples who inhabit it is key to prosperity for our Planet.

Mélusine Lebret