This is a continuation from the last issue of our CIDA-funded focus on Indigenous eco tourism in Ecuador.
Lately another attack took place. As a result, the Huaorani have demanded that the “timber merchants” move away from their land.
Moi Enomenga, along with the Organization of the Huaorani Nationality of the Ecuadorian Amazonia (ONHAE), say the forestry operations are killing the Huaorani way of life. The Huaorani leader of the Tigüino zone, Enqueri Eguenquimi, said there are three possible victims of the attack on the Taromenane clan by a group of as yet non-identified timber merchants.
Eguenquimi, former president of ONHAE, said “there are possibly more victims” after the attack by the timber merchants where the Taromenane clan live at the edges of provinces of Orellana and Pastaza.
He went on to say that there were around 20 attackers armed with rifles, who shot Natives armed only with spears. The Huaorani leader said that they are coordinating a trip with members of the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Ecuador “to make the investigations of this new fact of blood.”
‘We are alarmed and have assumed martial law because of this incident,” said Armando Boya, ONHAE’s current president. We are not going to allow timber merchants to continue entering our territory.”
The indigenous organization spread bulletins saying they “will take actions into their own hands to expel by force if necessary the timber merchants, who still continue removing the wood from the territory without the authorization of the Huaorani leadership.”
Eguenquimi announced that they will request the intervention in this subject from the minister of Government, Felipe Mantilla. The Ecuadorian government has promised to look into the matter and “conduct operations in the area.”
Moi feels that eco-tourism is one of the few ventures that can end this cycle of violence and degradation of the environment. He says that a trip to the Huaoroni territory is a very special experience. TROPIC’S Ayala agrees, saying the eco-tourist package will take you to one of the most ecologically important areas on the planet in the company of a unique rainforest culture. ‘Your visit will provide an important income which will reinforce and promote the long term conservation of their cultural identity and their nurturing environment,” says Ayala.
Meanwhile, Moi is looking for funding to journey to Canada and the United States to talk about his peoples’ plight, before they are wiped out as a people and a culture. You can get hold of Moi through the TROPIC website or by phoning them at (593-2) 2225 907 (ask for Pablo Ayala and tell him Will Nicholls sent you).
For more information go to www.tropiceco.com.
Eco-business and First Nations
Next up was Edwin Piedra, an Ecuadorian Aboriginal who had been exposed to outside influences a lot earlier than the Huaorani. Piedra is the top man in Ecuador for AmazonGas, a business owned by Natives in the Amazon. This is, in fact, the first time in the history of Ecuador that Natives are participating in the oil and gas industry. They are looking at a partnership with Keyano Pimee Exploration Company Ltd, which is owned by the Canadian First Nations of Saddle Lake and Whitefish (Goodfish) Lake, Alberta.
The idea is simple. For over a decade oil fields on Native lands in Ecuador have been burning natural gas in the process of retrieving the oil. AmazonGas and its partners want to take the natural gas and process it for sale. The profits would benefit Aboriginal peoples in Ecuador and Canada. Piedra says that they are looking for more partnerships with Native peoples.
“We share political experiences and culture,” said Piedra. “I feel it’s very important that we start a process with Natives in Canada. An interesting question is that if the territories of Natives are rich in resources, why are we poor? We should be doing something about Native poverty and the time to act is now.”
He also feels that Canada is bringing security to a project like this. Piedra says 25 members of Native communities in Ecuador are attending classes at the University of Calgary. “This will give the Native people power in future negotiations,” he explained.
Piedra says a natural gas plant makes environmental and economic sense for the Natives of Ecuador. “The gas has been burning and polluting for years. This damages the environment and helps nobody.” He said the money will go to further help the impoverished economies of the Native communities. Piedra said that economic development is already happening. Many communities make things that are needed by other Native communities in an interlocking manner. One might grow a certain type of food and another make certain goods that are needed by all and they trade or buy from each other which benefits all.
The natural gas plant project sees Keyano Pimee owning 45 per cent of the project and AmazonGas owning 55 per cent, with 70 per cent of the funding to come from a World Bank loan. Petroecuador, a government agency, has approved the construction of a natural gas plant.
Eco-business with a difference
In southern Ecuador you won’t find many men but more and more are starting to return. It’s because of two things; the Fondo Ecuatoriano (an agency started and funded by the Canadian government) and a unique product, the Panama hat.
The story starts with the fact this area of Ecuador is so poor that the men have to leave to find work elsewhere so their families don’t starve. The men go to work as merchant marines in Spain and Brazil or as migrant workers cutting sugar cane on the west coast. In the past when the men would return from the coast, they would bring back paja toquilla. This is the special straw used to make the famous Panama Hat. With help from the fund, a former hospital was converted to a factory to make the Panama hats and other woven goods.
The women weave constantly, while walking, talking, sitting or moving, their hands are in constant motion. They know they are weaving a better life for the future generations to come. The women themselves are amazing. They organized themselves to look at their problems and how to deal with them.
Today the group sells to a shop in New York where hats are sold for over $200 US each. A European market is beginning to open up for these women. Women are being sent out for training so they can take more control of their lives and future. The factory is in the process on being upgraded as more orders flow in. A concern for the environment sees more eco-friendly dyes being used these days. Older weavers are passing on their skills.
It is truly amazing what can be accomplished when people put their mind to it. It was great that they had the opportunity to do this because both Canadians and Ecuadorians came together to help them begin to dream of the future.
The women have a motto, “la calidad esta en mis manos”, or “quality is in my hands.” This means that every woman has the power to improve and better market their products. It is a serious motto for a serious organization of women.
Most families in the region used to live on an average of $359 US a year. The new money coming in pays for better health care, nutrition and education. Children won’t have to work at such an early age because of it. The women are looking at sending people out to school. In the end, besides providing a base for an economy, the Panama hat may fulfill a dream for a better future, one that will see the men come home.
Note: Thanks to all the staff at the Canadian Embassy in Ecuador for their invaluable assistance. Without their kind assistance and briefings this reporter would have been floundering on the shores of a foreign land.
Beesum Communications and The Nation Magazine would like to acknowledge that this story was produced with the support of the Government of Canada through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Without them, this story would not have been possible.