Three indigenous women walk, arms linked, faces painted. One of them is holding a megaphone.

Over 500 indigenous women protest Ecuador’s contract with Chinese oil company

Last week over 500 indigenous women and their allies came together in Puyo, Ecuador to denounce a contract the government recently signed with Chinese oil corporation Andes Petroleum. Participants from over seven indigenous nationalities took part, leaving their communities in the jungle to march Puyo’s streets and call for the protection of the forest and women defenders of Mother Earth.

Under the contract, the Chinese consortium of companies paid about $80 million for the right to drill in 500,000 acres of pristine rainforest – an area about 1.5 times the size of Los Angeles. These oil blocks represent “essentially the only Amazon in Ecuador that hasn’t been devastated by oil operations,” Adam Zuckerman told the Los Angeles Times.

They are also home to multiple indigenous groups, two of them uncontacted. Another, the Sápara, have been declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO for their unique language. But the Sápara people don’t need to be declared valuable by the UN in order for them have a right to their own land. They have been living in and caring for these forests for centuries, and a damaging oil project could be devastating for them.

In 2012, a movement of international allies and fierce organizers from the Sarayaku region of Ecuador won the right to require free, prior, and informed consent before the government can authorize extractive projects on their lands. Years later, indigenous groups are saying the government is doing everything it can to comply with this provision without actually listening to their pleas to keep oil in the ground, dividing communities and violently cracking down on opposition.

It’s because of this violence that so many were moved by the recent murder of Berta Cáceres, indigenous organizer and environmental activist in Honduras. Cáceres faced constant threats of violence throughout her career as co-founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and her death has rocked the Latin American environmental justice movement. Protesters at last week’s march held a tribute to Cáceres and her legacy.

Coinciding with the march, several protesters held a solidarity action at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco, protesting the contract and demonstrating support for indigenous women in Ecuador and around the world.

To read more stories about indigenous women fighting climate change and resource extraction, check out Feministing’s Bearing Witness series.

Header Image Credit: Mike Reich / Pachamama Alliance

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

Read more about Juliana

Join the Conversation