This story was originally published in Plan V (Spanish).
Written by Alexandra Narváez and Alex Lucitante, A’i Cofán Leaders and Winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize.
Our grandparents were nomads. They walked all throughout the jungle and navigated its rivers. They would find a place to settle, build their homes, plant their crops for a time, and then keep moving. In this way, they gathered the knowledge that was offered to them by nature and its spirits. Through the sacred medicine of yoko and yagé, they received guidance as to how to protect and care for our territory. We have inherited that legacy and have applied our elders’ teachings in our resistance to the threats that persist in our territories. This is how we have continued to survive as Cofanes. We are the Kuirasûndekhû, which in our mother tongue, A’ingué, means “those who take care.”
The activities undertaken by the Indigenous Guard are based on collective decisions made in an assembly. This is how we determine how to respond to the threats that persist in our territory. We carry out control and monitoring rounds in our territory to prevent the entry of invaders such as loggers, miners, and poachers, all of whom put our lives at risk by cutting down the forest, polluting the waters of our rivers, and setting traps armed with shotguns to hunt animals. We use technology such as drones and camera traps to identify these threats, since the government is taking no action and is thus allowing these intrusions against our peoples to continue. And we take guidance from our sacred medicines, to strengthen ourselves with the wisdom of our ancestors.
At the international level, our work in the Indigenous Guard has been described as pioneering. In the context of ongoing decimation of tropical rain forests that has brought the world into an unprecedented climate crisis, the Goldman Environmental Prize has recognized the collective work that we are doing, as an indigenous community, to put a stop to this devastation in the Amazon. We have always been open and public about our activities, and they are protected by the Ecuadorian Constitution as an aspect of our collective rights. Our rights were reaffirmed by the Constitutional Court of Ecuador in its historic ruling of January 2022, as well as in international treaties to which Ecuador is a signatory. Despite the international recognition of our work and the legal frameworks that support us, there are those in power who seek to disqualify us and label us as violent groups.
If you have questions about the activities of the Indigenous Guards, we invite you to visit us in our territory and investigate for yourself. You will find that we undertake our activities voluntarily, with only a baton or a spear as a symbol of our struggle and our heritage. You can learn about our ideology, which maintains the vision that our grandparents bequeathed to us. We urge all people, in keeping with the mandate set out by the Conference of the Indigenous Guard, to end the stigmatization of the Indigenous Guard. Such stigmatization puts our lives at risk. It bears repeating that, without our territories — which sustain the balance of our shared climate — all life on the planet is also at risk.