Women Leaders in Indigenous Communities Take a Stand for Climate

It was 2018 when Indigenous people in Ecuador won a historic victory in court to cancel 52 gold concessions and protect 79,000 acres of rainforest and a pristine headwaters region of one of the most important rivers in the Ecuadorian Amazon. A key leader in that victory was Alexandra Narvaez, who today is aligned with the Ceibo Alliance to help women in Indigenous communities defend Indigenous territories and ways of life through leadership and communications training. 

Alexandra is a member of the Indigenous Kofán of Sinangoe, whose people have lived and been the natural caretakers of the rainforest for centuries. She was the first woman to join a land patrol in Ecuador’s Sinangoe region, paving the way for women in her community to take a stand against illegal mining and poaching in their territory. Alexandra had to overcome strong opposition from her community to join the patrol’s monitoring time. In her community women are responsible for children, cooking, seed collection and handcrafts, while men are expected to hunt, fish and protect the community. 

She observed, “For me, it was very hard to become a guard. It was sad and, at the same time, happy, primarily because of all the criticism that I faced from men about why a woman should be a member of the guard why a woman should get to speak. Little by little, I am learning how to face these problems so that they can assimilate that a woman is also capable, that a woman can also speak, that our voices can also be heard.” (OneEarth)

Alexandra is also supporting the creation of sustainable microenterprises in the region, including Sinangoe’s first eco-tourism project. With the Ceibo Alliance she works alongside other community members in the Upper Amazon, which is home to 200 species of mammals, 600 bird species, nearly 300 fish species, and thousands of insect species. 

The efforts of the people from these communities - the A’I Kofan, Siekopai, Siona, and Waorani - are important to us all, as researchers have documented the importance of the Amazon rainforest for biodiversity, regional climate and the global carbon cycle, observing that “deforestation and climate change, via increasing dry-season length and drought frequency, may already have pushed the Amazon close to a critical threshold of rainforest dieback.” (Nature Climate Change, March 2022). 

Long marginalized, these communities are finding greater success in recent years, with their views and perspectives taken into account in important legal decisions related to land use in the Amazon. As related in a recent New Yorker article, the Waorani won a lawsuit filed against the Ecuadorian government for not properly consulting with the community before opening up their territory to potential oil exploration. 

To restore our climate, we need the powerful work on the ground of these women-led teams, and increasing amounts of carbon removal from the air. Join us at tomorrowsair.com. 

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