Text and photos by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator
Indigenous women of the Ecuadorian Amazon mach together in defense of the Earth and their communities on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016
On March 8, cries, cheers, shouts and drum beats rang out in the air of Puyo, Ecuador, the streets pulsing with the movement and steady steps of over 500 Indigenous women leaders and international allies, standing together to denounce a new oil contracts recently signed between the Ecuadorian government and Chinese oil corporation Andes Petroleum.
Women leaders from seven diverse nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, including the Andoa, Achuar, Kichwa, Shuar, Shiwiar, Sapara and Waorani nationalities had decided to unite on International Women’s Day 2016 with the expressed purpose of drawing attention to the dire social and ecologic implications of these new oil contracts, while calling for respect for Indigenous rights and the lives and just solutions of local women leaders, who’ve consistently put their bodies on the line to stop destruction across the Ecuadorian Amazon.
International Women’s Day events and actions began with a powerful forum at a central school and community center.
Women from across the region and their male allies, from toddlers and youth to honored elders, packed the open air auditorium, filled with anticipation as speakers gathered on stage, colorful banners were strung from the roof, and signs with statements such as ‘Femicide = ecocide – No persecution of women defending Pachamama ’, ‘We want the state to hear us – Andes Petroleum out of our territories’ and ‘They want to criminalize me for protecting my territory‘ were distributed throughout the crowd.
To join the day of action in the jungle town of Puyo, many women had walked, canoed and bused from deep within the Amazon, some carrying small children on their backs and in their arms, and many dressed in the intricate, unique and sacred clothing and adornments of their peoples.
Women from across the Ecuadorian Amazon traveled by boat, foot and boat to join events in Puyo
The forum opened with ceremony led in partnership by local women and Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation, Oklahoma, USA Councilwoman Leader and WECAN delegation member and Special Projects Advisor. Following prayers, thanksgiving and welcomes, key women leaders representing all the nationalities present took the stage to share information about recent developments and current extraction threats in their area, and to share traditional songs, dances, wisdom, calls to action and plans for change.
In just one of many inspiring moments, women leaders of the Huaroni people, who hail from the Northern Amazon where oil extraction has already been devastating the land and peoples for years, took the stage to attest that the Huaroni will stand until the end with their sisters of other nationalities in an attempt to protect their rivers, air and soil of the Southern Amazon, much of which remains uncontaminated under the vigilant care of local women leaders.
Women leaders of seven nationalities shared songs, dances, wisdom and calls for action and unity before the International Women’s Day march
Osprey Orielle Lake of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Leila Salazar Lopez of Amazon Watch took to the stage to share words of solidarity from the international community and connecting the day’s march to global struggles of women standing in defense of Mother Earth, and for just climate solutions.
Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN shares words of solidarity from the international community and highlights the importance of women uniting globally to stand for climate justice and the for protection of the Amazon Rainforest and the Indigenous communities.
Osprey shared that more than 2,000 signatures from 60 countries had been collected on a WECAN petition and statement in support of the International Women’s Day actions and ongoing struggles to protect and defend the Amazon and its diverse communities. She also pledged on behalf of WECAN to work in solidarity with the Indigenous women of the Amazon everyday into the future until threats to the women’s communities and territories have been stopped in their tracks.
WECAN delegation member Casey Camp Horinek also spoke after the series of presentations by Amazonian women, recounting experiences of colonization, discrimination and dire environmental damages at the hands of the fossil fuel industry in her Oklahoma, USA community – with the intent of providing insights and support to the women of the Amazon working to prevent similar mal-development and destruction in their homelands.