Indigenous peoples, wherever they live, are consistently the greatest forces of protection for local natural habitats. “Their knowledge and potential contribution have often been overlooked,” says Sheila Wertz, FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer: “a greater empowerment of indigenous peoples, such as by giving them more rights or control over wildlife resources, can contribute in increasing conservation efforts in affected territories.”
The Waorani people in particular have a history of forest protection: Nenquimo has stated that "The Waorani people have always been protectors, they have defended their territory and their culture for thousands of years." Still, due to the encroachment of larger society, 80% of them currently occupy a space one-tenth of the size of their ancestral lands.
Nenquimo's “Our rainforest is not for sale” campaign collected almost 400,000 signatures
When, in 2018, the Ecuadorean government announced that they’d be putting seven million acres of Amazon rainforest in jeopardy with 16 new oil concessions, Ms Nenquimo rose to fight for her people’s home. She launched a digital campaign called “Our rainforest is not for sale,” collecting almost 400,000 signatures in opposition to the auction.
On top of that, Ms Nenquimo acted as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Ecuadorean government, arguing that it would be illegal to put Waorani land up for auction without their consent. The victory the Waorani people won in this case not only protects 500,000 acres of land from oil extraction, but also means the government will need to be rigorous in acquiring consent before auctioning lands off in the future.
"The less you know about something, the less value it has to you...the easier it is to destroy."
Action like this, which Ms Nenquimo has brought about as the leader of the Indigenous-led nonprofit organisation Ceibo Alliance and the first female president of the Waorani organisation of Pastaza province, have led Time to name her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Indigenous successes like Ms Nenquimo’s are rare, though, and the devastation of global deforestation still rages on. This October, in a Guardian article addressed to the entire western world, Nenquimo wrote: “For Indigenous peoples it is clear: the less you know about something, the less value it has to you, and the easier it is to destroy. And by easy, I mean: guiltlessly, remorselessly, foolishly, even righteously. And this is exactly what you are doing to us as Indigenous peoples, to our rainforest territories, and ultimately to our planet’s climate.”