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The Kichwa: A People Undaunted


Indigenous people, native or aboriginal people are the groups protected in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights which are based on their linguistic and historical ties to specific territory, and their historical and cultural distinctiveness from other populations. These people have preserved traditional ways of living like historical or present reliance on subsistence based production, hunting, and predominately non-urbanized society.

The Kichwa People' Struggle Against Big Oil

The Amazon accounts for 60 percent of Peru and according to Peruvian Census 2007, the Kichwa (or Quechua) population is the third largest ethnolinguistic family in the 13 families living in Peruvian Amazon. Ninety percent of Kichwa people are peasants, producing cocoa, coffee, beans, plantains in small plots called chacras, and coffee. The Kichwa’s other main economic activity is hunting. Residing in the central Ecuadorian Amazon, the Sarayaku community of indigenous Kichwa people had one of the most successful histories of defending their territory from resource extraction.

Like most of the Amazon, Kichwa people’s lands were also divided up into oil concession blocks. “Argentine company CGC is the operator and 50% shareholder in Block 23, which overlaps the territory of Kichwa from Sarayaku, and some Achuar lands. ConocoPhillips is owner and operator of Block 24 that comprises both Shuar and Achuar territory” (Challenging Emerging Threats in Ecuador, 2011). Kichwa people are adamant in opposition to oil extraction, but because of aggressive company and government pressure incursions, it led to multiple confrontations with Kichwa community members being victims of rights abuses. In early 2000s, government let oil businesses exploited and explored oil in this area without proper consultation with locals. Many communities sold out to oil companies but Sarayaku community, Kichwa people did not sell their lands to oil companies to exploit oil.

However, Ecuador community earlier ignored the community refusal to sell oil drilling rights and signed a contract with C.G.C. oil companies for exploring oil in Sarayaku. In 2003, when oil companies came for laying explosives and dig test wells, Sarayaku people mobilized and dedicated themselves to struggle for six months. In the six months of struggle, indigenous people were tortured, and strong suffering for their people mainly their children and mothers but still they continued their fights against the oil companies. In jungle camps Sarayaku leaders hatched a plan and women of their community prepared a strong batch of chicha, traditional Ecuadorian homebrew made from fermented cassava. The Sarayaku residents ordered the petroleros to off their ancestral land.

A battle between an indigenous community named Kichwa and a South America largest state backed oil company is looming in Ecuadorian rainforest. The area is near the Yasuni National Park, which is home of richest variety of life on earth (Main, 2013). A battle is looming between one of South America's largest state-backed oil companies and an indigenous community of 400 people in the Ecuadorian rainforest. The state backed oil company named Petroamazonas wanted to begin prospecting for the oil, but the tribesmen were ready for to die fighting for protecting their land that cover around 270 square miles of pristine rainforest. Around 80 percent of village opposes such oil deal but that small minority was pushing it through against their rights (Watts, 2013). Oil companies were treating them like dogs. Therefore, community decided to reject the offer from company which can put long term environmental impact of mining.

Members of community started last-ditch legal efforts for stopping the company and they also get help of British businesswoman named Patricia Gualinga. Behind her, 400,000 people are in streets calling for the global action for stopping climate change. She stands beneath a sign “Keep the oil in the Ground”. Gualinga and other Sarayaku community members travelled to Europe for meeting with the foreign leaders and warm energy companies executives about their opposition to oil extraction from their lands and they also produced their own documentary films about their struggle, leverage with message with international groups like Amazon Watch. In 2003, Sarayaku community also brought their case in front of Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which formally recognized a number of human rights violations which had transpired.

Commission issued precautionary measures to Ecuadorian government for the removal of critical river blockage and for also cleaning up of the all explosive material which is widespread by the company after it failed attempt for carrying out seismic testing. In an attempt for intimidating the community through the brute force, oil companies violently attacked several members of community but their voices would not be silenced. In light of continued abuses, representatives of Kichwa people petitioned the Inter-American Court of Human rights for issuing the provisional measures to the Ecuadorian government in 2004.

Current Situation

Women play a key role in success of Kichwa people fight against the oil companies because they are the main victims of oil extraction as their ability to feed their families becomes impaired. In marches, conferences, protests, and international forums, women of Ecuadorian Amazon are standing with fierce conviction and love for forests. Women repeatedly put their bodies on frontline in an attempt for halting oil extraction across the Amazon. For decades, Indigenous community of Southern Ecuadorian Amazon successfully fought for protecting their land from the encroachment by oil companies, engaging in local action and campaigns with powerful message of respect for Earth natural laws and rights of Indigenous people.

Another major issue raised by people in such protests is the climate change and activities carried out by big organizations.

The protestors claim that our ancestors and various spiritual leaders have always been concerned about climate change. Today, organizations are exploiting nature for their personal benefits and are leading world to a dark future. It is important for people to understand the consequences of practices like excessive oil extraction. Therefore, apart from community’s rights and oil companies’ wrongful acts, there is a big concern of climate change.

Amazon Watch has been a long time supporter of the efforts of Kichwa people in the central Ecuadorian Amazon for preventing the oil development of their ancestral lands. Block 23 that overlay a substantial portion of their territory is now currently owned by the Conoco Phillips which has changed the multiple times in past decade. Company also garnered the attention and support of Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights that both produced the provision and precautionary measures to the Ecuadorian government on behalf of the Sarayaku community. Jose, president of Sarayaku from 2011 to 14, led his community for taking its fight to Inter-American Court on Human Rights. In October 2014, Ecuador Minister of Justice Ledy Zuniga stood in Sarayaku and delivered an extraordinary message i.e. “we offer a public apology for violation of indigenous property, the right of consultation, cultural identity, having put at serious risk their lives and for violation of the rights to judicial protections. Court decision also appears to have given Sarayaku an extra measure of protection from the new oil company exploration (Goodman, 2015).

There are several indigenous people tribe which come under the South America. One of the main tribe of indigenous people that struggled against the lodging companies and oil companies is U’wa.

The U’wa

This is another tribe of indigenous people of South America who live in the cloud forest and struggling because of lodging and oil companies. They are involved in a battle against the Occidental Petroleum for saving their way of life and land. Just like another tribes of Colombia, they have been subjected to attempts at colonization throughout the history. In past history, these indigenous people have continuously fallen victim of the European diseases, natural resources ownership, forced loss of their land and violence over the land. Now the U’wa can only claim ownership of less than 15 percent of their original territory.

Occidental Petroleum is a US based company which had its sights set on 1.5 billion oil barrels which lie beneath the Samore Block which lie in the region where U’wa territory lies (Beisner, 2012). The implication that drilling have for environment have been well documented and involves the pollution of waterways, air, soil, land degradation, an climate change. The area is extremely ecologically sensitive so any pollution put in water at this high elevation will be carried through all over the region until it empties into ocean. Because of oil spills death of aquatic animals and plants also took place in such areas. Until 2000, indigenous people’s struggle for preventing the drilling from beginning was effective in fending off Oil Company proposed drilling.

Strategies and Solutions

Later on, the U’wa people themselves maintained the strategy of non-violently occupying drilling site. They filed a lawsuit against government of Colombia claiming that land is their according to rights. They also petitioned Organization of America Stats for standing up for them. The U’wa has been effective in reaching out to US groups for the help. Through their campaign they aware the US citizens about Colombia situation as corporate media often ignore the struggles of indigenous people like U’wa.

They also chose specific powerful people and the investment companies for pressuring for speaking out for U’wa. But because of lack of education on issue and efforts of targets of influence for preventing mass education, U’wa people were struggling to take a severe blow when the Oxy Company began drilling 2000. Despite oil drilling has started, but indigenous U’wa continuously maintains a peaceful fight till the end. This fight was important for raising the awareness of US citizens (Haren, 2010). Their efforts resulted that Oxy does continues drilling but they need to be pressurised for using some of their profits to benefits of U’wa community too. A list of human rights of indigenous people was put forth in a report of project underground on oil. It includes the rights of sharing profits made form oil companies and full disclosure by oil companies of their specific drilling plans.

Peruvian Indigenous Peoples

Peru's indigenous population have also suffered open conflicts to save their natural resources. They have pulled off major protests around the mines, logging, oil and mineral exploitations in South America. The arrival of dams and oil explorers spells cultural death for their communities. All of these resulted in forest destruction at accelerating rate. Peru rapid deforestation is set for continuing with severe consequences like impacted the biodiversity. Industrial logging is another main problem which indigenous people are facing. Industrial logging also resulted in deforestation which impact the way of living of indigenous people. Of the thousands of trees in Amazon basin some 400 with proven value, only about 50 species were harvested. Logging operations leave 30 to 60 percent of residual trees damaged beyond the recovery. It is estimated that three-quarters of Peru exported timber is logged illegally (Abdulhadi, Kartawinata, & Sukardjo).

Another reason of deforestation is gold mining and oil palm. Oil palm plantations are spreading rapidly in the Peruvian Amazon. Oil Palm also put destructive effects of crop which impact the fertility of soil. Several other environmental impacts include land clearance for subsistence, pesticides, fungicides into soils and dumping of chemical wastes. Therefore, it is very important for such tribes to put several controls on such activities.


In order for avoiding the conflicts like those of U’wa and Peru indigenous people and other indigenous groups who involved in the battles against the oil companies must take place in their current resource use paradigm. One of the main recommendations is reduction of fossil fuel dependence for countries like US. As oil destroys the biological and cultural diversity, and devastates fragile ecosystems, it leads to toxic pollution and other environmental justice issues in areas where fossil fuels are refined that destabilize the global climate. Similarly through the use of alternative media broadcasts, local teach-ins, education awareness and demonstrations such oil drilling companies can be pressurize for controlling this unethical works. Every human being has equal rights, so that it is very important for government to make policies for taking care of indigenous people rights.


Challenging Emerging Threats in Ecuador. (2011). Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

Abdulhadi, R., Kartawinata, K., & Sukardjo, S. (n.d.). Effects of mechanized logging. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

Beisner, C. (2012). Why is Obama Lying About US Oil Reserves? Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

Goodman, D. (2015). Deep in the Amazon, a Tiny Tribe Is Beating Big Oil. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

Haren, L. V. (2010). Environmental Justice Case Study. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

Main, D. (2013). Ecuadorian Tribe Vows to 'Die Fighting' Oil Company. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

Watts, J. (2013). Ecuadorean tribe will 'die fighting' to defend rainforest. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

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