Paulo Celso de Oliveira is a Pankararu; he practices law in Brasilia, Brazil. As the first indigenous lawyer in Brazil, he works to defend the rights of indigenous peoples in his country.
A member of the Rukullukta community describes the various maps used to monitor their land.
Mina Susana Setra, a Dayak from Indonesia, represents her country – and her people – as the Director for Foreign Affairs for the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).
David James is a former schoolteacher, a member of the Arekuna community, and the only indigenous lawyer in Guyana.
Ramiro Batzin serves as the president of the indigenous organization Sotz’il, and as a representative of the Mayan peoples on a national indigenous peoples and climate change mesa (roundtable) in Guatemala.
Rogeliano Solis of the Kuna Yala people of Panama teaches Natural Sciences and advises on issues of importance to the environment and people’s lives.
IN DEPTH: CI works with local communities around the world to benefit both people and nature. Learn more about these unique partnerships.
All are members of Conservation International’s (CI) Indigenous Advisory Group (IAG).
“We have the same challenges as our brothers and sisters around the world.”
– Mina Setra
In early May, these five indigenous leaders and IAG members gathered in Ecuador for a week of shared stories and experiences with indigenous communities throughout the country. (The sixth member, Kanyinke Sena of Kenya, was participating in a REDD+ training in Africa, and unable to attend.)
The IAG was formed to ensure that CI thoughtfully and effectively incorporates the insights and experiences of indigenous and traditional peoples as we develop strategies and activities related to conservation, development and climate change. IAG members serve as advisors on these issues, speaking both from personal experience and as internationally savvy members of their communities. This recent meeting allowed the group to better understand Ecuador’s national forest protection and poverty alleviation initiative, Socio Bosque, and to reach out to indigenous communities across Ecuador.
Socio Bosque grew out of CI’s work with local communities and the Ministry of the Environment in Ecuador. The program, which launched in September 2008, is an evolution of Ecuador’s poverty alleviation and deforestation initiatives, and facilitates partnerships between land owners, and land-owning communal groups like indigenous peoples, and provides an economic incentive to keep forests standing.
Ecuador holds approximately 10 million hectares (almost 25 million acres) of forest, and is home to 13.5 million indigenous peoples representing 13 traditional ethnic groups. To preserve this abundance of biodiversity and to support the wealth of cultures, Socio Bosque pays communities to protect their forests over a 20-year period and requires landowners and communities to develop sustainable investment plans for the funds.
So after an in-depth meeting with the Socio Bosque leaders at Ecuador’s Ministry of the Environment, the IAG team loaded up three 4x4 trucks and headed over the Andes and down into the Amazon to find out how Socio Bosque is working for the people it was designed to help.
FEATURE: Ecuador and "Forest Partners"
Into Kichwa Country
Over three days in Ecuador’s Napo province, the group visited multiple communities and the forests they tend. At the first of those meetings, Johnson Cerda, CI’s Indigenous Advisor and a member of Ecuador’s Kichwa community, said, “We formed the Indigenous Advisory Group from leaders from different countries so that we could improve the work we do. We are excited to learn from you – to hear the ideas you can provide. We are here to listen, and to share.”
- Spent an afternoon with nearly 40 members of the Kichwa Wamani community in the mountainous eastern part of the province discussing the logistics of community financial management, the importance of the forests to both livelihoods and culture, and, especially, the need to direct more funds to educate the community’s children. The Kichwa Wamani community has 620 inhabitants and 1,000 hectares (nearly 2,500 acres) under conservation.
- Visited a family-owned ecotourism project that combines cultural and biological education with a guided tour of a family’s 32-hectare (nearly 70-acre) forested finca (farm).
- Joined an intense gathering of representatives from 17 communities in the Kichwa Rukullakta group, where issues of oil and mining pressures and inter-community communications took precedence. The Kichwa Rukullacta group represents 4,000 people and joined Socio Bosque with 11,000 hectares (more than 27,000 acres) of tropical humid forest.
- Enjoyed a tour of two ecotourism projects with the Campo Cocha community, near the city of Tena. Campo Cocha members provide guided hikes and river tours of the hilly tropical forest they protect, and have developed a small museum of Kichwa culture as well. The Kichwa Campo Cocha community is small, with only 280 residents living near a central point on the Napo River. Campo Cocha is protecting 2,380 hectares (close to 6,000 acres) with Socio Bosque.
An Opportunity to Learn and Share
At each stop, evidence of the commonalities of indigenous experience came through.
The need for expanded input and engagement from indigenous communities was a resounding theme, as was the need for greater educational and community-building opportunities. The IAG members and community leaders also firmly agreed that healthy forests and other thriving habitats play an irreplaceable role in our cultures and our lives.
As Mina Setra pointed out, despite the vast distance between her home in Indonesia and Ecuador’s Kichwa communities, “we have the same challenges as our brothers and sisters around the world.”
Now back in their native countries, IAG members are sharing their experience with colleagues and community members at home, while CI works to incorporate their feedback into our conservation planning.
READ MORE: A Forum on Indigenous Issues
The IAG was made possible by funds from NORAD.