In a battle that lasted 8 years, the indigenous tribe known as the Sarayaku finally triumphed. The government of Ecuador was found guilty of violating their human rights in trying to force them to accept oil drilling on their ancestral lands.
80 members of the Sarayaku, a Kichwa tribe living in the Ecuador Amazon, traveled to Quito last month to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their court victory for sovereignty and the right to protect their indigenous way of life.
Part of their celebration included the Ecuador premier of a very moving and sublime half-hour documentary in which they share the history of their lands being invaded, beginning in 2002. Outside interests suddenly arrived by helicopter, bringing armed guards with them. The documentary is called “Children of the Jaguar,” and it was filmed and produced by the Sarayaku people themselves.
With no prior contact, information, approval or contractual consent, explorations were begun. The Sarayaku were subjected to searches and forced to comply with no respect shown for their culture or their rights.
Finally they hired attorneys and began a sophisticated and thorough public relations and legal process to bring their plight to the public. They’ve used ways that are ancient and modern—ranging from a press conference and radio shows to wearing their native dress and conducting ceremonies.
In 2012, as a last resort, they turned to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. A delegation of 17 members of their tribe journeyed north to Costa Rica to present their case and outline several violations of their rights by the government of Ecuador. They emphatically stated that they do not want extractive companies coming onto their land.
The Court ruled in favor of the 1200 members of the Sarayaku indigenous tribe. The Court ordered the Ecuador government to remove explosives there and to consult with the people before developing any further projects. Other reparations are part of the settlement, including the payment of almost over one and a half million dollars to the Sarayaku for damages. The tribe also wants a public apology, ideally from President Raphael Correa himself.
Correa has been fighting the judgment, calling the tribe terrorists. But the Sarayaku have not given up and continue to explore means by which to get the country of Ecuador to comply with the Court ruling. As the indigenous say in the documentary, “It’s their obligation. It’s our right.”
The dignity of the Sarayaku and their spiritual prowess is palpable in this film. Once again a seemingly insignificant and marginalized portion of society in Ecuador has made its voice heard and it is powerful.
All of us can take a cue from the way in which the Sarayaku are dealing with the problems international corporations and governmental interference are bringing into their daily lives. There is something at work here far beyond the strong assertion of their rights and their non-violent methods.
In the words of their attorney, Mario Melo, “It’s been a vital and unique experience, personally and spiritually rewarding. I’m very grateful.”
Despite all the chaos and destruction that has descended upon their lives, the Sarayaku still find plenty to be grateful for, as well. As they state in the documentary, “We might not have the riches that others have, but we have our culture. We have a healthy environment. We have the strength of our people. All that gives us dignity and makes us feel lucky to be who we are.”
If you haven’t already seen this award winning film, watch it now and be truly inspired.