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From the Amazon to Alberta: Indigenous Women on the Frontlines of Climate Change

From the Amazon Basin to Alberta, Canada, Indigenous women are leading efforts to halt environmental destruction and restore health and justice in their communities.

Photos by Felipe Jacome

In the Amazon, oil extraction, mining, mega-dams, and unsustainable agricultural and ranching are disrupting one of the great network of water and forest upon which the Earth’s climate depends, threatening plants, animals, and people in an unprecedented way. As female givers of life, the women of the Amazon have felt a great responsibility to lead the fight against continued destruction of Pachamama, our “life giving Mother Earth.”

Patricia Gualinga Montalvo of Saryaku Ecuador, is one of the Indigenous women leaders on the frontlines of the movement to protect the Amazon. Known for her key role in the historic Indigenous rights victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found the Ecuadorian government guilty of illegal oil concession, Patricia has fought ceaselessly to protect her homeland from the decimation wrought by the fossil fuel industry. With Patricia’s guidance and that of our partner Amazon Watch, WECAN International has been working to support women’s media outreach and mobilization efforts in the region.

As part of the Women for Forest Program, WECAN International is also honored to be working with Gloria Ushigua, President of the Association of Sápara Women of Ecuador. The Sápara have long organized to protect their territory, which includes over 300,000 hectares of the some of the most biodiverse and pristine rainforest in the world. The Sápara women have released declarations, participated in press conferences, and were crucial in the ‘March of the Women’ in October 2013, during which 100 Amazonian women walked over 300 miles to denounce the Ecuadorian government’s plans to auction off their ancestral land.

WECAN International also continues to a support campaigns to stop oil exploration in Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, a zone previously deemed ‘intangible’ due to its unparalleled biodiversity and unique cultural heritage, which is now being opened up to oil companies. This solidarity work included sponsoring and promoting an art exhibit in the capital of Quito, which documents the struggle of the Indigenous women who are defending the Ecuadorian Amazon from oil exploitation. The words written on the images are self-reflections of the women´s lives, of their culture, history, traditions, and their reasons for fighting oil extraction in their ancestral lands.

Photos by Felipe Jacome

View the full series y Felipe Jacome here:

Thousands of miles away, the Indigenous First Nations women of Alberta, Canada are also rising to protect their land and the health and integrity of their communities from the destruction wrought by the fossil fuel industry. The women of Alberta have been at the forefront of the mobilization against the Keystone XL pipeline and expansion of the tar sands and its infrastructure, demonstrating the severe threat such projects pose to climate, land, water, and tribal rights.

Photo by Osprey Orielle Lake

Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation is one such organizer, who tirelessly challenges the expanding industry. In May 2008, Crystal spearheaded a law suit against the Canadian Government, presenting to the court over 17,000 violations of Treaty 6, which guarantees her peoples the right to fish and hunt in their ancestral homeland. This right, negated by decimation of local ecosystems for tar sands development, is central to Ms. Lameman’s vigorous campaign to hold the government and corporate entities responsible for their exploitation of the tar sands, and the resultant destruction of the land, and her people’s heritage and livelihood.

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This September 2014, WECAN International will host ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’ on September 22, and ‘Rights of Nature and Systemic Change in Climate Solutions’ on September 23, as part of the action surrounding the United Nations Climate Summit and the People’s Climate March. Patricia Gualinga, Gloria Ushigua, Crystal Lameman, and other outstanding Indigenous women leaders from across the world will join us to present their stories, visions, and climate solutions. For more information, see


Blog by: Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Co-Founder and Executive Director

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