While in Bonn, Germany for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP23 climate negotiations, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN International) had the opportunity to sit and speak with Mirian Cisneros, woman President of the Kichwa Pueblo of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Over many years, the community of Sarayaku has taken strong and courageous action to confront and work to stop stop oil extraction in their territories, setting an extraordinary example for fellow Indigenous nations, and for people all around the world seeking to prevent harms to the Earth and their ways of life.
WECAN spoke with Mirian about the significance of being a woman leader of her community – and about her people’s message to the world during COP23.
Osprey Orielle Lake: It is just really a momentous time that you are a woman president of your community – and I would love to know what that means to you, and the significance of that?
Mirian Cisneros: I’ve always loved to work with women, since I was very young, I’ve always worked with organizations, such as the youth organization of Sarayaku, through which I’ve worked a lot with women of different nationalities in my province, and across the country, with the women of the high mountains, of the coast, and of the Amazon. And the fight of the women has always been for us to come and occupy space within organizations, because they have often been led just by men, and the women have always had to complete our roles as women, taking care of the children, being a wife, taking care of the gardens and the homes. So often to assume a role of leadership has been complicated, has been difficult for women, but with the passing of time, through a process, us women have learned to value ourselves and raise our self esteem to say both of us, men and women must work together. More than just gender equality, we are talking about living in harmony. It could be a man or a woman leading within the organization, so long as we have the same rights and respect for both.
When I was named as President by the Congress of Sarayaku, I felt so nervous, because first of all, I did not know what challenges were awaiting me. And what I said to the women, because the women had been supporting me, was, ‘now is the time for us to demonstrate our leadership, because women have always been at the front of all of our fights, carrying our children, caring for our husbands, caring for the garden, feeding our households – in all aspects, including in the marches, so now we need to bring our strength together, to say that we are united, that we cannot be forgotten as leaders’. And so I said to them, ‘women, don’t leave me alone, I will be at the front, but it will be with the help of all of you that we will continue ahead. I will take the baton to lead not just the women, but the whole community.’ And the past presidents and leaders, wise people in the community, and the other women themselves, they have given me the support to assume this role and help strengthen my community. They have given me the strength to take on this role, so now I can say, ‘I am with my Pueblo, and my Pueblo is with me’.
Osprey Orielle Lake: It is so beautiful to hear, we love to hear these words about women and how they are working together. Because we are finding in our networks all across the world, that there is this beautiful solidarity that women are showing one and another at this time, and I think we really need that in terms of healing how we are living with Mother Earth and each other. So, here we are at the climate negotiations in Germany, and I would love to hear from you, bringing the voice of your community, bringing the voice of women of Sarayaku and deep in the forest – what is your message here at COP, to the governments, and to the environmental movements, the social movements here. What is it that you would like us to know, the message you are bringing from your people?
Mirian Cisneros: My message here at COP23 for the people, for allies of the world – is that we need to fight together, unite forces, because the states that are here speaking in our name are at a negotiating table where supposedly they are looking for solutions, but these solutions are for them, not for Indigenous peoples. Our people are in our communities, while they are here making decisions for us. They are putting prices on our natural resources, they are putting prices on us, without fully comprehending that within our territories we exist as communities with huge wisdom, knowledge, science, technology. So we are asking allied peoples to keep resisting, because this fight is how we must maintain life, and to have the freedom to express ourselves.
We must be in these spaces and we must be consulted to see if we are in agreement or not. They are here deciding the fate of us all, so our presence here is vital, we must be here to express, to ask for a change in international politics so there is respect for us – and so that the proposals that come forward are from the original people themselves, made of our own cosmo-visions and our own decisions about how our lands will be cared for.