The Water Defense Committee Goes to Napo For a Forum on Indigenous Struggles

Around one hundred indigenous Kichwa, Huitoto, and Maijuna from villages peppered along the Napo river convened this week in Santa Clotilde, the rural capital city of the district of Napo, to participate in the 2013 Forum on the Political Agenda for Ethno-development in the Napo in 2013. The forum provided a space to discuss the various substantial social and environmental threats to the indigenous way of life in the Napo. Pastor Roberto Carrasco from the Church of Santa Clotilde facilitated the event and invited the Water Defense Committee of Loreto, of which Alianza Arkana is a proud member, to present on the devastating effects of oil spills on the freshwater ecosystems and indigenous communities in Loreto and the Peruvian Amazon at large.

On Monday, Alianza Arkana accompanied Jose Manuyama, the President of the Water Defense Committee, to Santa Clotilde. The six hour boat ride from Iquitos delivered us in time to participate in roundtable discussions on the three topics previously identified as most pressing: environmental threats, the culturally insensitive educational system, and Peru’s Prior Consultation Law.

A panel discussion on the cited topics took place the following day. Teachers and mothers cited the lack of adequate bilingual educators as a concern. The Kichwa language, like indigenous languages across the Amazon basin (and beyond), is in imminent danger of being “educated” out of existence as the elder native speakers die off and the children are put into a school system that teaches exclusively in Spanish. Languages might be lost entirely in a system like this that puts greater value on homogeneity of communication, often for the sake of profit. With the disappearance of indigenous world views goes a deep repository of wisdom–including the experiential knowledge of hundreds of years of sustainable natural resource management in perhaps the most biodiverse region on the planet.

The Ministry of Culture held a panel discussion on Peru’s Prior Consultation Law, a piece of domestic legislation that codifies the right of indigenous people to free, prior, and informed consultation
before the government implements projects affecting their ancestral land. Addressing the indigenous audience, the Ministry of Culture asserted that the law exists to improve dialogue between the national
government and indigenous communities. What is often not mentioned in such presentations is that prior consultation empowers indigenous communities only up to a point. That point is the glaring caveat written into the law that grants the government the right to override the opinion of consulted indigenous peoples if the indigenous opinion beleaguers the powers that be.

Pastor Roberto Carrasco expressed frustration at the absence of key officials from the regional and local governments. “As a citizen of Loreto, I find it very troublesome that none of our elected government authorities or political candidates found it worthwhile to sit here with us and discuss the grave issue of oil contamination in our Napo,” Pastor Carrasco said.

b2ap3_thumbnail_9524473603_5ec0bbb1b1.jpgIn an impassioned speech, the Water Defense Committee’s Jose Manuyama stressed the importance of grassroots organizing in the struggle to save the rapidly disappearing rainforest and ever more polluted rivers. He encouraged the peoples of the Napo to send a commission to Iquitos to present the department of the regional government with a report on this week’s forum. “United,” Mr. Manuyama said, “we can defend our way of life and halt the processes of destruction that we are immersed in.”

Deborah Rivett, Saturday, 17 August 2013

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