After Historic 2018 Victory in Court Against Gold-Mining, A’i Kofán of Sinangoe Demand Ministry of Environment Grant Title to Ancestral Lands
Contact: Sophie Pinchetti, email@example.com, Whatsapp: +593 98 148 4873
Photos and spokespeople available upon request.
Quito, Ecuador, 19 October 2021. — Over one hundred A’i Kofán traveled to Ecuador’s capital today to demand a meeting with the Minister of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE) and personally deliver their land claim for 63,775 hectares of ancestral territory.
The A’i Kofán have lived on and protected these lands continually for hundreds of years, yet after the government unilaterally declared Sinangoe’s ancestral homelands part of the Cayambe-Coca National Park in 1970 the law prohibited them from holding land-title. For decades, the A’i Kofán have been forced to renew five-ten year temporary land-use agreements at the government’s discretion. Recent legal reforms in Ecuador now allow Indigenous Peoples to obtain land-titles within national parks, but the MAATE has failed to act on the new laws.
For the past four years, the A’i Kofán community of Sinangoe has undertaken an extensive community mapping initiative of their land’s history, also demonstrating how A’i Kofán stewardship is necessary not only for the protection of this key biodiversity hotspot but also for the very survival of the A’i Kofán of Sinangoe as a people. Sinangoe’s Guardia Indigena, with support from the organizations Ceibo Alliance, Amazon Frontlines and Digital Democracy, collected over 5,000 GPS points of historical, spiritual, ecological or dietary importance. This evidence was presented to MAATE and is available online at Sinangoe’s new digital platform.
The A’i Kofán argue that not only is it their constitutional and international right to hold formal title over their lands, but that time and again they have proven to be the land’s best defenders and stewards. Despite the declaration of the Cayambe-Coca National Park as a protected-area, the government has shown little ability or interest in actually protecting it. Satellite imagery shows over 1,800 hectares deforested within the Park over the last twenty years, while Sinangoe’s land remains free of deforestation (images available upon request). The historic absence of budget-allocation, State-park-guard effectiveness or even minimal coordination with the A’i Kofán by MAATE was exacerbated in 2018 when the Sinangoe Guardia Indigena found heavy gold-mining machinery along the Aguarico river in their lands.
After discovering that the government had actually granted 20 mining concessions along the river without their knowledge or consent, and were about to grant another 32 concessions the same year, the A’i Kofán of Sinangoe sued and won a historic legal victory annulling the concessions. The Constitutional Court of Ecuador selected the case for review and has indicated it will hold its first-ever hearing in Indigenous territory in November of 2021 to set national precedent on Indigenous Peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent. With President Guillermo Lasso promising to double oil production and rapidly expand mining in the Amazon, the Sinangoe case provides a historic opportunity to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ right to make the final decision on any extractive project that affects their territories.
For now though, Sinangoe is focused on permanent land-title and hopes to pave the way for other Indigenous nations in Ecuador trapped within the same colonial legal frameworks and lack of political will by MAATE, currently impacting at least 1.5 million hectares of Indigenous homelands within unilaterally declared protected-areas nationwide.
Discover Sinangoe’s territory through this interactive map: https://bit.ly/SinangoeEcuador
Viktor Quenama, President of the A’i Kofan community of Sinangoe:
“We are the owners of our ancestral territory and we need the Ecuadorian government to title our territory immediately. Even though our territory is in a protected area, the government does not help to protect it. We have cared for our territory for thousands of years. We protect our rivers, our forests, our animals, and our plant medicine. We have also organized our own community guardia to defend our territory from invasions. Once we have a land title, we will be able to protect our territory more effectively. It is time for the Ecuadorian government to respect our rights to our territory, because our territory belongs to us and our future generations.”
Jorge Acero, Lawyer from Amazon Frontlines:
“Today the Indigenous A’i Kofan community of Sinangoe is demanding respect for their right to a land title. This is particularly significant because the territory of Sinangoe is located within a protected area. The Ecuadorian government imposed protected areas over the ancestral territories of many Indigenous communities, without any consultation whatsoever. The Minister of the Environment has not given land titles to Indigenous communities, and this violates national and international law. It also suggests that the Ecuadorian government holds ownership over these biodiverse areas that Indigenous peoples have protected and stewarded for thousands of years. This is a deeply colonialist and centralist view. Indigenous peoples are the ancestral owners of their territories, and they have the right to their land title. The Ecuadorian government must respect their property and their own practices of land management.”
Tuntiak Khan, Vice Coordinator of COICA:
“The A’i Kofan people of Sinangoe have lived for millennia in their ancestral territory, and today, they are fighting to set an invaluable legal precedent. The Ecuadorian government must legally recognize their ancestral territory by giving them a land title – to not do so is a grave violation of Indigenous people’s collective rights and national and international treaties. Indigenous territories are of vital importance to Indigenous people’s way of life, spirituality, culture, and worldview. We at COICA urge the Ecuadorian government to respect Indigenous peoples’ right to territory and to title the land of the A’i Kofan of Sinangoe immediately.”