Scott: We are wrapping up our series about the fight over natural resources in the Amazon rainforest. Today, Maggie Rulli hears from people who are native to Ecuador and who have lived off the land there for thousands of years.
Maggie: Of the nearly 16 million people who live in Ecuador, the United Nations estimates that about 4 million of them are ethnic indigenous Indians. Among them are those of the Huaorani tribe who have been fiercely defending their land for centuries. And they are still defending it today, battling the oil industry and the government because the vast majority of oil in Ecuador is right beneath their land.
Some of the Huaorani live in the area of Yawapede. It is a long drive from the country’s capital, but it is possible thanks to a road built for oil workers.
Eduardo Pichilingue: Huaorani young people cannot imagine their lives without this road. It’s something completely necessary.
Maggie: Eduardo Pichilingue is an environmentalist who took us to meet Moipa Nihua and his wife, three children and his father.
Moipa Nihua: I have to fight and demand that the government respect the Huaorani land. If I do not demand respect, Huaorani will lose the territory.
Maggie: The way he and his family live shows how the oil industry has affected them. Some of their lifestyle is still true to their heritage. But these days, instead of hunting and gathering, Moipa works with activists to help his people get better access to healthcare and education, and fight for legal rights to their land.
Moipa: I want my territory to survive and be around for future generations. When the oil companies came, so much changed. If the companies had never come, then Huaorani would be living a good life.
Maggie: Moipa’s father was once one of the best hunters in the tribe and he still teaches his grandson how to use a blowgun to hunt. But it is unlikely his grandchildren will ever need these skills. Now a bus brings their food and supplies using that same oil road. Eighty percent of the Huaorani live on what is now only a small percentage of their original land. And even then, they say they aren’t safe.
Joel Licuy: It’s very bad. It’s very bad. It causes contamination to the river, to the fish, to the trees and to the animals.
Maggie: Sixteen-year-old Joel Licuy told us that when he grows up he wants to be a lawyer. When we asked him why, his answer was simple.
Joel: To defend the community.
Maggie: With less than 3,000 Huaorani left in the Amazon, many worry that their way of life could soon be lost forever.
Moipa: The Huaorani are used to living a certain way; without sickness, without pollution. But now with the oil companies, we have had huge problems. Many of the companies say that they work with a lot of caution, but they have little protection to not contaminate the environment.
Maggie: Just up the road from Yawepede, we see a site that warns of toxic waste, what is leftover after drilling for oil.
So, how common is it for oil companies to dump their waste like this?
Eduardo: Well, it’s common.
Maggie: Two decades ago, a group of more than 30,000 indigenous people sued Chevron over claims that the oil company knowingly polluted the environment to save money. In a landmark decision, Ecuadorean courts ordered Chevron to pay nearly $10 billion, but the tribes have not seen any of that money and the case is held up in legal gridlock.
Moipa: I don’t agree that we should negotiate. I want my territory – no more – to live.
Maggie: But not all Huaorani agree.
Armando Boya: Oil is in some ways good and in some ways bad.
Maggie: We met Armando Boya in the town of Coca where everywhere you go, you see signs of the oil industry. This town was built with the money and jobs from oil.
Armando, who is also Huaorani, works for an oil company and says the industry is an important part of the Huaorani’s lives.
Armando: Now there is education, transportation and help, thanks to the oil. And the government wants to get the oil, so they are now helping people.
Maggie: If the oil companies had not disrupted their lives, the Huaorani would likely be living peacefully as their ancestors once did. But now many Huaorani, and Ecuador, depend on the income the oil brings in.
So the country continues to debate. Which of Mother Nature’s gifts are most valuable to them – its rainforest, its people or its oil?
Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.
Scott: The lawsuit is still being appealed and the Huaorani people are still fighting to keep their land from being sold.
Now, you can watch the entire Amazon series and read blog posts from Maggie’s trip over at ChannelOne.com. And while you are there, be sure to vote in our 2014 Artist of the Year competition where you get your chance to vote for your favorite band or artist that we have featured on the show.