Although forests make up approximately 30% of all land on Earth, their disappearance is occurring at a rapid rate. In fact, between 1990 and 2016 alone, 1.3 million square kilometers of forests were removed by man. This means animals’ habitats are destroyed, certain species may be more likely to become extinct in the near future, and if deforestation continues, surface-level temperatures and sunlight reflection could be altered in affected regions.
Anyone who has done research on deforestation knows that putting an end to it isn’t easy. Wealthy companies of high-status are typically behind these tasks, and with more prestige and resources comes more power. But when it came time for a major oil company to cut down over 500,000 acres of the Amazon Rainforest to look for oil, the indigenous people in the area decided to take a stand despite the possibility of failing.
The Waorani people, who have resided in Equador for hundreds of years, took the oil company to court, arguing that the land that was at threat of deforestation was rightfully theirs. The company countered with an offer to buy the land off the tribespeople, to which the tribe declined. The land was not only their home, but it was sacred.
Traveling by canoe to Puyo to attend court, the Waorani tribe fought their case in traditional tribal wear and facepaint. The women of the group even sung a protest song to shut down a hearing.
While the court case was lengthy, the judge decided to give the win to the Amazon tribe: the land was legally theirs. Therefore, the oil company would be unable to remove several acres of their forest without their permission.
“Today we have protected our forest from oil drilling. We have protected our water from contamination. We have protected our children from sickness. This is a legal precedent for indigenous rights,” said Oswando Nenquimo.
The tribe may not have had an easy battle against the large oil company, but they certainly prevailed. Their hard work and perseverance earned them the rights to their land and put an end to a massive operation that would have had long-term if not permanent effects on their rainforest.
This is not only a triumph for the Waorani people but also for environmentalists. The tribe’s win in court proves that even smaller voices can be heard and that money and status don’t always give people the most power.
Discover more about the Amazon tribespeople’s victory below.