The Blue Lounge at Worcester State University hosted Patricia Gualinga, the International Relations Director for the Kichwa tribe of Sarayaku people, indigenous to the forests of Ecuador.
Gualinga’s seminar, titled “Climate Change and Human Rights: A Report from the Amazon” brought light to the endeavors of the Sarayaku people, who in 2012 won their case at the Inter-American Court of Civil Rights to protect their land from oil extraction. The Sarayaku are an indigenous tribe to the Amazon, and live off their territory via agriculture, hunting, and fishing. According to Gualinga, the Sarayaku control over 430,000 acres of land, and manage to use only 1 percent for agriculture.
Due to their efforts against the Ecuadorian government and the oil industry, the Sarayaku have become a beacon of hope for indigenous people everywhere, and for those who stand for sustainability.
“As Sarayaku people,” said Gualinga, “we have established a goal to demonstrate that yes, we can develop sustainable communities as a gift to humanity.”
To better equip themselves to make this change to the world, the Sarayaku have made documentaries and used the internet as a tool to both increase their knowledge of the outside world, and to showcase their struggle.
“We have made films and gotten better with technology because we had to learn through desperation,” said Gualinga. “We used these tools to become an obstacle for oil companies. That court decision dignified us, and made us believe that yes, we can make a difference.”
Since successfully protecting their territory, the Sarayaku have continued to help other indigenous people in the United States and Canada, representing themselves at climate marches. The most recent one was held at the People’s Climate March in September. They have made it their goal to protect the human rights of indigenous people, helping them to refrain from “disappearing,” which unfortunately happens with some of these groups, Gualinga has stated.
The nation of Ecuador submitted a formal apology to the Sarayaku, something Gualinga cited as a major step forward for their cause.
“For a government to formally apologize to us provides hope for indigenous people everywhere,” said Gualinga.
When asked what WSU students could do to help change the world like the Sarayaku, Gualinga suggested that today’s youth should at least generate conversation about climate change, and that with such dialogue taking place, new policies can eventually go into effect.