Sarayaku (Kichwa for “river of corn”) is an Indigenous Ecuadorean tribe numbering 1,200 people. Their self-reliant way of life includes fishing, farming, hunting and more recently, ecotourism. Located in the heart of the Amazon, this small community made the headlines in recent years for successfully fending off oil companies and a government determined to exploit their land for profit in a decade-long struggle.

Since oil reserves were found on their ancestral lands two decades ago, Sarayaku’s traditional lifestyle has been under threat. Like most of the Amazon, their land was divvied up into oil concession blocks and in 1996 an Argentine company began prospecting for oil on their land. Determined to “keep the oil in the ground”, the villagers led non-violent protests and launched an international campaign, strategically selecting their allies. Numerous residents, including four community leaders, became victims of rights abuses in the multiple confrontations with the aggressive company.

On July 25 2012, after a decade of campaigning, the Sarayaku residents were at last able to breathe a sigh of relief. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled the government had violated the community’s physical and cultural wellbeing. It affirmed and defended the community’s right to free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples (FPIC). The Sarakayu’s success story was recounted in an award-winning documentary called Children of the Jaguar by’s champion, filmmaker Eriberto Gualinga. This little village has since become a beacon of hope for other Indigenous communities worldwide.
Feb 8, 2016
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