What does it mean to protect a territory? When we talk about defending the land, what does that look like on a day-to-day basis?
“Our Children’s River”, the latest documentary film co-produced by Amazon Frontlines, Ceibo Alliance and the Honnold Foundation, explores these questions by spotlighting the work of the Sinangoe Indigenous Guard (La Guardia de Sinangoe), who patrol and monitor tens of thousands of hectares of ancestral A’i Cofán territory.
Combining their in-depth knowledge of their territory with astute uses of diverse high-tech tools, from drones to GPS devices to camouflaged trap cameras, Sinangoe guards have received acclaim across the world for their effectiveness and innovation in land and water protection.
Founded in 2017, just one year later, the Sinangoe Guard helped their community obtain a momentous legal victory, as Ecuador’s highest court canceled 52 illegal gold mining concessions that had been previously demarcated on A’i Cofán territory, without any consent from the community. The court’s decision immediately nullified the licenses and set a national precedent, reinforcing the rights of Indigenous communities to be consulted and give free, prior and informed consent to any extractive projects planned in their territories. The evidence collected by the Guard, including aerial images and recorded footage, proved crucial in convincing the judges. In 2022, a founding member of the Sinangoe Guard and community leader Alexandra Narvaez, together with A’i Cofán leader Alex Lucitante won the Goldman Prize for their efforts.
“Our Children’s River” traces the work of the Guard while also offering a window into how extractivism and colonization affect the territory of the A’i Cofán people. Bulldozers flatten the forest, while roads for oil trucks fast-track access to the territory for external threats and invasions including miners to loggers to poachers. Against these forces, the community guard is indispensable, watching the territory from above and below, assiduously monitoring the lands and waters to shield against the contamination of the river and deforestation.
“As a member of my community’s guardia, I know what it takes to fight, day in and day out. The most important thing is to have the heart and the will to protect our territory”, explains Nixon Andy Narvaez, a young land defender and filmmaker who is one of the protagonists of the documentary. “Without us, there would be nothing stopping extractive interests from devouring the world’s largest tropical forest, and all the waters that nourish the forest…Our efforts don’t just help our people, but the world at large. We protect rivers and water systems that benefit humanity as a whole. We protect forests that are fundamental to the global climate, and are home to enormous amounts of biodiversity. Guided by the wisdom of our elders and the forest, we continue to unite and fight.”
The film also shows how the Sinangoe guard have harnessed technology to enhance their own work. Drones expand the view of the guards, allowing them to watch over unreachable locations. Motion-activated camera traps record invaluable evidence that help the A’i Cofán in their legal struggles. Solar panels, installed at refuges the guards use on their long patrols, enable the teams to recharge their gear.
Nixon, who supported the production and is already creating documentary films of his own, issues a direct appeal for viewers “to watch the film with a hand on their hearts. Because behind every image, behind every film, is a larger story. A wider collective process that is easy to ignore. We are a small community, doing a crucial labor of protection, even though we are ignored repeatedly by the state and public authorities. We need to fight constantly for our voices to be heard, and for our needs to be recognized. So do watch the film, to value the work that Indigenous communities on the frontlines are doing, that territorial defenders are doing.”
The film, “Our Children’s River” was funded by the Honnold Foundation, Directed by Dominic Gill of Encompass Films, and Produced in partnership with Amazon Frontlines, Ceibo Alliance, Encompass Films, and the Honnold Foundation. Support for the Honnold Foundation, Ceibo Alliance, and Amazon Frontlines makes this work, and these stories, possible.