Fighting Big Oil in the Amazon

The struggle against oil in indigenous territory is one of the main themes of an upcoming documentary.
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The struggle against oil in indigenous territory is one of the main themes of an upcoming documentary, Re-Imagining Progress: Voices from the Ecuadorean Amazon, by filmmakers Adam Punzano and Joe Tucker, slated for release in early 2017.

Inspired by the long-term struggles of the Sapara and Sarayaku communities of Ecuador, the filmmakers spent time with both groups in 2016.

“Over long periods, in settings ranging from homes to chakras (small vegetable gardens) and the forest, we filmed hours of interviews with community members, gaining insights into the indigenous attitude towards Western notions of ‘development’ and ‘poverty, which both play a large role in the way the debate over indigenous rights is continuously framed by those in power in Ecuador and also globally,” they stated in a press release.

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Along with details of the continuing fight against oil exploration and extraction in their territories, which goes back over 13 years and includes recent incursions by a Chinese-owned company, the film focuses also on the spiritual perspectives of the people. The filmmakers featured the commentary of the President and Spiritual Leader of the Sapara Nation, Manari Ushigua who also addressed the idea of development.

"If we create a new way of understanding development, a new way to define a concept closer to the reality in which we live as people, this would help us to give more life to the earth and the history of humankind... ," Ushigua said.

"For us, the natural world is everything. The natural world is why we understand that we are related with all beings that live here on this earth, such as the trees, the small insect, the water, the space. Within all these beings, we're just one other being. In this space, nobody is the most important, the most knowledgeable, the being that knows everything. No. Each one has a function, so this is the way that helps us to maintain an equilibrium with nature."

As is noted in the film, the people of Sarayaku are still vigilant against oil and other extractive industries despite their victory in international courts in 2012. One of the Sarayaku leaders, Patricia Gualinga (from the same family as Eriberto and Nina Gualinga who went to Standing Rock recently to show solidarity), commented on recent business dealings between a Chinese-owned oil consortium named Andres Petroleum and the Ecuadorean government.

"The new concessions are a product of the (government's) failure to comply with the court judgment, to try to view us as if we're stupid and to deceive us with supposed free, prior and informed consent, to try to impose an economic and social model completely distinct from our reality. So the fight continues to try to show a different model, a different plan to what they are used to... and to say this is our culture, this is our knowledge and this is why we have to defend it," Gualinga stated.

"We are always here present for the communities and nationalities that are fighting," she added, "not only the Sápara but globally we are standing with those in North America, Canada, Peru, because the reality of Indigenous Peoples is the same in every part of the world."