Millions of acres of rainforest saved: A tiny Amazon tribe just defeated big oil in a historic lawsuit.

It’s not every day that you see a story like this. A real David v. Goliath story that results in a win for all of humanity.

The Ecuadorian government wanted to drill for oil through seven million acres of land in the Amazon. However, their efforts were stopped thanks to the Waorani people of Pastaza, who won a historic court ruling against the government. The lawsuit represented 16 Waorani communities who live inside the Ecudorian jungle.

As Rachel Riederer for The New Yorker reports:


On April 26th, a parade of hundreds of Waorani men and women, members of an indigenous nation in a remote part of the Ecuadorian Amazon, marched triumphantly through the streets of Puyo, the regional capital of the eastern province of Pastaza. Many had come from villages in parts of the rain forest that have no roads—journeying by canoe and small plane. They were celebrating a new court ruling, which held that the Ecuadorian government could not, as it had planned, auction off their land for oil exploration without their consent.

The ruling immediately protects have a million acres from government-sanctioned drilling but also puts a stop to a planned auctioning seven million additional acres of land that would have gone to private companies who wanted to set up oil exploration operations.

What’s more, the ruling could set a powerful precedent for other indigenous communities fighting to prevent government and corporate interests from drilling on their lands.

Mitch Anderson, Executive Director of Amazon Frontlines, summed up the impact in a statement:

“This is a major precedent for indigenous rights across the Amazon. Today, the court has recognized a pattern of deceit, bad-faith and manipulative tactics in the Ecuadorian Government’s attempt to earmark the Waorani people’s lands for oil extraction. This is a huge step forward in the battle to ensure indigenous people’s rights over their lands are respected. Guaranteeing indigenous peoples’ rights to decide over their future and to say ‘No’ to destructive extractive projects is key to protecting the Amazon rainforest and halting climate change.”

The Ecuadorian economy is experiencing a period of slow growth and its government is currently mired in international debt and has said it planned to use any revenue from oil drilling to help pay off those loans.

After the ruling, they said they planned to appeal the decision before a provincial court, which could reverse the decision. However, the Waorani have promised to keep fighting against the proposed drilling, even if it means seeking intervention from international courts to protect their sovereignty over the land.

“The court recognized that the government violated our right to live free, and make our own decisions about our territory and self-determination,” Nemonte Nenquimo, a Waorani leader, told the New Yorker. “Our territory is our decision, and now, since we are owners, we are not going to let oil enter and destroy our natural surroundings and kill our culture.”

It's an incredibly achievement for the Waorani people and for everyone on the planet. Their victory not only protects millions of acres of precious and vulnerable rainforest, it shows that any community can take a stand to protect the values of its people even in the face of immense power. Real change starts at home but it can have an impact that stretches across the entire globe.

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