March 13, 2019 – Puyo, Pastaza Province, Ecuador – Called to a rushed hearing to argue their high-stakes lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government, Waorani women broke into song in court and did not stop until the hearing was suspended in protest of unfair and discriminatory treatment by the judge.

The Waorani’s lawsuit, co-filed with Ecuador’s Ombudsmen on February 27 th, 2019 against the Ecuadorian Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources, the Secretary of Hydrocarbons and the Ministry of Environment, alleges that the Waorani’s rights to free, prior and informed consultation, to self-determination were violated due to an improper consultation process prior to an oil auction which would offer up the Waorani’s lands in the Pastaza region to the highest bidding oil company, putting their collective territory and the rights of nature in imminent risk.

The Waorani had filed a motion to judge Esperanza del Pilar Araujo Escobar requesting that the hearing be held in their own territory to guarantee participation of traditional leaders and witnesses, as communication and travel to remote communities is extremely limited, but the Judge decided to initiate the rushed hearing regardless. When, in the absence of a court-certified translator, the judge proposed an arbitrary selection process that disregarded the approval of Waorani elders, Waorani women stood and took over the courtroom with traditional song.

“What my grandparents did, we are doing now, not leaving footprints. You westerners must see what we are. We came to ask you to respect our culture. We came to ask you to come to our territory, if you respect us you will come. We do not want war as our ancestors did, we only want to be heard. We want peace, compassion and understand.”
– Excerpt of Waorani women’s song in the courthouse

Unable to be heard over the songs of the Waorani women, the judge called the parties’ lawyers to the bench and declared the suspension of the hearing until a translator was found. The Waorani expressed the need to hold the hearing in their own territory, and the need for ample notification for any hearing held in the city of Puyo in order to guarantee the travel of leaders and witnesses. The Waorani plaintiffs present also declared that they will oppose any translator not approved by their elder leaders in keeping with Waorani tradition.

Representatives of CONFENIAE, the indigenous organization of the Ecuadorian Amazon, were present in court along with indigenous peoples from across the country. Thousands of people around the world have signed on in support of a letter to the President of Ecuador and the interested oil companies to say that Waorani territory is not for sale:

Statements from the Waorani and legal team:

“Our fight is not just a fight about oil. This is a fight about different ways of living. One that protects life and one that destroys life.”
− Nemonte Nenquimo, Waorani leader and President of CONCONAWEP (Coordinating
Council of the Waorani Nationality of Ecuador-Pastaza)

“When they wanted to trick us into accepting oil in 2012 the government came into our territory unannounced without problems. But when we tell them the hearing for our case must be held in Waorani territory to guarantee our rights, they say no and make excuses.”
– Oswando Nenquimo, spokesperson of Waorani of Pastaza

“The Court is demonstrating once again the discriminatory practices of the Ecuadorian state, and its inability or lack of interest in respecting the rights and customs of the millenary cultures and peoples seeking to protect their territories and their constitutional rights. The Waorani showed today that standard practice does not apply to them, that they deserve and have the right to a differential approach.”
– Lina Maria Espinosa, attorney for the Waorani petitioners, from Amazon Frontlines

“Today we saw discrimination and racism, and above all the decision to not hear the indigenous nations that came to be heard and be respected. CONFENIAE rejects this detrimental attitude that the authorities and judicial branch continue to take, and we give our full support to the Waorani fight because we have the truth on our side when we say we were never consulted properly regarding these oil blocks.
– Marlon Vargas, President of CONFENIAE (Confederation of the Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon)

“We cannot continue to allow the indigenous nations to be discriminated against, yet the Waorani today suffered from that discrimination. That’s why they began to sing at the hearing, as a mechanism to be heard because the western world once again was trying to impose on them.”
– Yajaira Curipallo Alava, Pastaza Provincial Delegate of Ecuador’s Human Rights Ombudsmen