Activist Spotlight: Nemonte Nenquimo
The Amazon rainforest is barren, devoid of trees and lush greenery. Instead, it is filled with loud machines that drill into the ground, causing fires, oil spills, and deforestation. In response to this, Nemonte Nenquimo, an indigenous woman who is part of the Waorani group, has helped save around 500,000 acres of the rainforest from oil extraction. She is the first female president of Waorani of Pastaza and a co-founder of the nonprofit organization Ceibo Alliance. Nenquimo is the recipient of the 2020 Goldman Prize and listed as one of TIME 100’s most influential people of 2020. Nemonte Nenquimo states, “The government tried to sell our lands to the oil companies without our permission. Our rainforest is our life. We decide what happens in our lands. We will never sell our rainforest to the oil companies.”
Why is oil exploration detrimental to the environment and indigenous people?
Due to the rise of oil prices, over 180 zones were added to the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest for oil extraction in the 2000s. More than 20 million toxic materials were dumped into the forest and major rivers, resulting in lead and other toxic waste to be found in the blood of the indigenous people. Oil spills, deforestation, and road building has significantly decreased the size of the rainforest. This not only creates a lack of biodiversity but also negatively impacts indigenous societies. Oil companies contaminate the land by dumping waste into local rivers and land. This has raised an immense public health issue as it threatens the health of indigenous tribes living in the rainforest and has led to higher rates of cancer, birth defects, and miscarriages.
How has Nemonte Nenquimo contributed to protecting land from oil extraction?
When Ecuador’s Minister of Hydrocarbons announced an auction of 16 new oil concessions, which happened to overlap with the Waorani people’s territory, Nenquimo decided to fight against it. She held region-wide meetings with leaders from different communities and launched a digital campaign in the hopes that people would rally together to protect their territory and the Amazon. Nemonte Nenquimo also sent a petition to the Ecuadorian government about how the rainforest that her people lived in were not for sale. Eventually, she brought a successful lawsuit to the government and saved 500,000 acres from being sold.
How has Nemonte Nenquimo continued to fight for indigenous rights?
Nenquimo has continued to help communities maintain independence in many ways. For instance, she helped install rainwater harvesting systems and solar panels to self-generate energy in communities. She has also supported women-led, organic cacao- and chocolate-producing businesses to continue to help communities become more independent from oil extraction industries. Furthermore, Nenquimo has taught youths how to document photos and take videos that will help further the movement. She urges everyone to join the fight for protection of indigenous rights over land, both locally and internationally.