Background information on The Amazon Rainforest & Indigenous Nationalities
UNESCO, the World Wild Life fund and the World Bank suggest that the Amazon Reserve for Peace located at the head waters of the Amazon River basin – latitude 00 06′ 49.85″ longitude 76 10′ 39.13″ -, is an integral part of the most species rich tract of Tropical Rainforests in the world. The SVSF Amazon program area is scientifically catalogued as a “Globally Outstanding Eco-region”, whereby it acquires a “Highest Priority status” for all forms of cooperation concerned with the protection of Tropical Rainforests, flora, fauna, fresh water supplies and the ancestral rights of the Amazon indigenous inhabitants.
That Rainforests are vital for global climate control is common knowledge based on scientific fact. Metaphorically speaking they are the lungs of the world, producing 40% of the oxygen we breathe. At the same time Rainforests are indispensable regulators of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The Amazon Rainforest represents over half of the Rainforests remaining on this Earth today. Ecuador’s Amazon region, comprising 13 million hectares, is home to 30% of all biodiversity. Approximately 40,000 plant, 3,000 fish, 1,560 bird, 430 mammal, 420 amphibian, 380 reptile and an almost infinite number of insect species have been classified.
Nurtured by the Andes mountain range, the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest forms a particularly significant part of the headwaters of the Amazon River basin, which is the source of 18% of our daily fresh water supply.
THE AMAZON INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES
Ten identified Indigenous civilizations, approximately 115,000 people, inhabit the Ecuadorian Amazon- Achuar, Ai´Cofan, Huaorani, Quichua, Secoya, Shiwar, Shuar, Siona, Taromenani and Zaparo. Their culture, economy and welfare are synonymous with the protection and integrity of their ancestral lands. Aurelio, Shaman of the Ai´Cofan, Cesario, Shaman of the Secoyas and Delio, Shaman of the Sionas, believe that the source of life lies in the equilibrium and reciprocity between humans, flora and fauna. The Rainforest is the genesis of traditions, spiritual life and ancestral medicine, and constitutes the essence of cultural values. The three Shamans contend that an ecologically balanced and uncontaminated environment conditions the survival of Amazon Indigenous cultures.
Shamans Delio, Aurelio and Cesario are Directors of SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras. At the same time, and given that leadership in Ancestral Amazon cultures is determined by blood lineages, Aurelio, Cesario and Delio are the traditional representatives of their cultures.
The Ai’Cofan community is comprised of approximately 700 people organized in extended families, and located along the Aguarico River in the province of Sucumbios. They refer to themselves as “Ai” which in their language, “Ingae”, means “people”.
The Secoyas and Sionas number 850 inhabitants, and live on the banks of the Putumayo, Aguarico and Cuyabeno rivers. The three civilizations practice the cult of “Yage” as a means to acquire knowledge, consolidate power and to communicate with supernatural powers. They believe in a universe consisting of two worlds – an underground world inhabited by mortals, referred to as “the house of the earth”, and a celestial world, home of the spirits representing all species living in “the house of the earth.”
The Ancestral medicine practiced by the Shamans is based on over 700 species of plants, endemic to the Amazon Rainforest. These medicinal plants account for 25% of all western pharmaceuticals, although they only represent 10% of the plant species utilized in Shamanic remedies.
Historically the Ai’Cofan, Secoya and Siona communities satisfied their basic needs by following the seasonal migrations of animals in an area extending over 30 million hectares – stretching from Colombia in the north and north east, through Ecuador to Peru in the south. Since 1964 this area has been drastically reduced as a result of oil exploration and the expansion of the agricultural frontier. We estimate that approximately 59% of the primary Rainforest has been destroyed during the last 30 years.
Indigenous mortality rates in the Amazon practically coincide with deforestation- both in time and in percentages. We have documented a drastic reduction of the Secoya and Siona population since 1985, approximately 73% and 60% respectively. The plight of the Ai’Cofanes is particularly bleak. They have been the victims of genocide, land displacement and diseases such as flu, measles and smallpox. Prior to 1970, the total Ai’Cofan population was estimated at 15,000 people. Today only 700 survive, a shocking 95.4% decline.
The words ” Ecuador has been, Is and Will Be an Amazonian Country” are firmly engraved in the walls of the Presidential Palace. They are synonymous with national culture and incorporated into official protocol. However if the concepts, implied by these words, are chronologically scrutinized in terms of environment protection, sustainability, or the defence and respect for the human rights of the Amazon communities, they would be referring to a tragedy in the making; a disaster of universal proportions and consequences.
The bottom line is that since 1964, the history of the Ecuadorian Amazon can be characterized by the developmental genocide of the Amazon Indigenous population and the ever accelerating destruction of one of the most significant and species rich ecosystems known to man. This may be sad, irrational, shocking, unmoral, suicidal, but unfortunately it is, beyond any reasonable doubt, an undeniable fact of life.
The important question that we have to ask ourselves is: What has to be done to turn the page on such dismal chapters in history? In times of trouble we have to remain positive and SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras believes that we really must and shall reach an agreement on how and what has to be done, and continue to take concrete corrective action.