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Film addresses indigenous struggle over Ecuadorian forest

Film addresses indigenous struggle over Ecuadorian forest

Mario A. Murillo, professor of radio, television and film and vice dean of the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication, hosted a discussion on the current state of the protests in Ecuador regarding the forest and oil mining.


Hundreds of people were injured in these protests, but the government has given way to the demands of the protestors to some extent. The territory and the people indigenous to the area are called the Sarayaku, based in the Ecuadorian Amazon.


The Sarayaku people have previously had to resist the activities of the government and mining companies. In 1989, they stopped one oil exploration. From 2002-2003, the Argentinian company CGC, Compañía de General Combustibles (General Fuel Company) attempted to extract oil from the area. A physical resistance lead predominantly by the indigenous women ensued.


The Sarayaku refer to the forest as Kawsak Sacha, or the living forest. The belief among the Sarayaku is that the forest is not just alive in a biological sense, but in a spiritual sense as well; that all the life in the forest is interconnected.


Throughout the discussion, speakers used the metaphor of a child in a mother’s womb to represent the people and the forest. “Recognizing that a tree, a plant, a bird and a frog are all interconnected, and all depend on each other, and can’t just look at [the forest] as a tool or a resource to extract [oil from],” Murillo said.[OS1] 


The Ecuadorian government believes that the forest must be developed to be used by the country for resources and to create space for other projects. The argument of the Sarayaku is that the forest is already developed and needs no further development from the Western government.


To protest these events, the Sarayaku built a canoe and sent it to the 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP 21, summit in Paris, France as a message. The summit was held as a global gathering to combat climate change.


Eriberto Gualinga, a Sarayaku photographer, musician and filmmaker who focuses on  the conflict with the government and the forest, created a film that addressed the protests and placed an emphasis on the canoe as a symbol of life and the people of the forest.


“The goal is to make ourselves visible as indigenous peoples who are active, alive and have a forest that has all this knowledge to share with the world,” Gualinga said.


“Modern states send messages digitally, but these have no feeling and no emotion behind them. The canoe carries within [it] the intelligence of the forest and all the life in it,” said Franco Viteri, former president of the organization for the Sarayaku community. “The canoe is a language, it speaks with the mountains and the trees and the rivers.”


It is harder to implant the policies of other Western or First World nations, therefore Ecuador has developed its own political, geographical and historical policies.


The media in Ecuador has been corrupted by the government, making it harder to speak about the issues. The digital media of the indigenous people is untouched by the government, but major conglomerates hold the media and the people do not feel safe.


“We’re not taught enough about the struggles and beliefs of indigenous people in our curriculum,” said Benjamin Sinan Welch, junior public policy major.


“I think it was good to bring people on campus with different perspectives because this campus can be sort of an echo chamber,” said Caitlin Kopf, junior history major.


“It was definitely kind of shocking to hear about,” said sophomore public relations major Samantha Russo. “It makes you think about how we really neglect the planet sometimes.”


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