Patricia Gualinga – Human Rights Defender
“Destroying the Amazon is the destruction of the world.” – Patricia Gualinga
The Amazon has been called the “lungs of the world”, producing one-third of the world’s oxygen. Deforestation and oil excavation threaten this rich biodiverse region, and ultimately, all of us. Many of those fighting to defend the Amazon are the Indigenous leaders who call these communities’ home. Worldwide, Iindigenous people represent only 5% of the population, yet protect 80% of global biodiversity.
For many Indigenous leaders the work is dangerous as they speak up, stand their ground and fight giants like big oil, mining and the government. Last fall we met one such courageous leader, Patricia Gualinga, of the Sarayaku Kichwa Ecuadorian Amazonian community, who has worked to protect the forest and defend her people’s rights for more than 20 years, particularly as part of the Network of Women Defenders.
In 2012, she helped her community win a court case that found the Ecuadorian government guilty of authorizing oil exploration and militarization of Sarayaku property without permission from the inhabitants. The ruling fined the government $1 million and set a legal precedent that Indigenous people must provide consent for governments or private corporations to enter their territory.
Her father asked her to spread the word that it was madness to destroy the Amazon for oil and she also did her best to educate people about the negative effects of climate change. Gualinga blames climate change with more frequent river flooding and plummeting the temperature of her tropical homeland into the 40s at times, causing hardship for her people who don’t have the proper clothing to keep warm.
Her home has been attacked; she has received death threats, and yet she persists. And for this courage in the face of adversity, Patricia is the 2021 Alnoba International Indigenous Award recipient for the work she continues to do on behalf of her community.