Indigenous leaders from Ecuador joined the protectors at Standing Rock recently to show solidarity and share information, as their community has had some victories against oil companies and politicians in the past few years.
Franco Viteri, Nina Gualinga and Eriberto Gualinga from the Kichwa community of Sarayaku, accompanied by Leo Cerda, Kichwa from Tena and Amazon Watch’s Ecuador field coordinator, arrived on Monday September 13.
All of the Kichwa visitors are activists who have participated in the decade-long fight against multinational oil companies and the Ecuadorian government’s efforts to drill in their Amazonian community known as Sarayaku.
The Kichwa contingent has been very active in the struggles in Ecuador. Viteri is an activist and former president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENAI), which has been involved in nationwide protests for 30 years. Eriberto Gualinga is an activist and the filmmaker who created Guardians of the Forest, an award-winning documentary about the Sarayaku community’s struggle against the oil projects and the Sarayaku’s significant legal victory compelling the government to abide by international law and consult with the community regarding any project. Nina Gualinga, Eriberto’s niece, is an activist who starred in the documentary. Cerda is a longtime Kichwa activist and international advocate.
In an interview on September 14, Viteri explained the reasons for the visit and outlined the connections between indigenous communities in the north and south. News of the struggle at Standing Rock had reached them, and Viteri and his group had been selected by the Sarayaku communities to “stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters,” the veteran activist and leader said.
“We came from the Amazon jungle with a message of strength and solidarity for the Sioux,” Viteri said. “My people are very conscious, because of our history and our tradition, just like the tribes here, of our connection with nature, with Mother Earth; we know that this is what gives balance to life here on Earth. The transnational corporations, like those trying to build this oil pipeline, are blind because they don’t understand the language of nature.”
Viteri noted that his Kichwa community had been in contact with other tribes in the U.S. before, but not with the Standing Rock Sioux. He also pointed out that he had seen other indigenous people from Latin America at the camp, and recalled that he had spoken with a few from Honduras, Peru and El Salvador. Another Amazonian indigenous community from Ecuador will be coming, Viteri said. He closed the interview with a message for the protectors at Standing Rock and others throughout North America.
“In the name of all the children, elders, women, the birds, the large and small animals that depend on water to survive, the Kichwa people extend a greeting,” he said, “a sacred greeting of respect for nature and for the life of all the peoples of the North, because we know that if water is destroyed, life on Earth will end.”