ClearWater Supporting indigenous struggles for clean water, cultural survival and rainforest protection in Ecuador’s oil-affected northern Amazon.

The Context: Our Forest in Peril

Our planet’s last standing wild forests are in peril. The unrelenting global demand for our earth’s natural resources, coupled with the insatiable thirst for profit of multinational corporations and revenues for host country governments, is driving the destruction of the world’s last standing primary forests, and the millenary cultures of the world’s indigenous peoples. Faced with the threat of economic impoverishment, loss of territory, the onset of new sicknesses, social strife, climate change, and forced assimilation into dominant cultures, indigenous peoples are struggling for autonomy and cultural survival: the ability to protect their ancestral homelands from destruction and build powerful, sustainable alternatives to the disappearance of their lands and livelihoods.

Home to one of the world’s most important and bio-diverse ecosystems, Ecuador’s northern Amazon is on the frontlines in the battle to save our planet’s rainforests from destruction. Driven by reserves of crude oil, minerals, timber, African palm, and agricultural settlement, large-scale industry’ presence in this critical Amazonian headwaters region threatens the survival of both the area’s unique ecosystems as well as the cultural survival of the Cofan, Siona, Secoya and Waorani peoples, the stewards of more than 5 million acres of standing wild rainforest.

Our Approach: An Alliance in Defense of Life

The Ceibo Alliance (Ceibo) is an indigenous-led Ecuadorian non-profit organization comprised of members of the Cofan, Siona, Secoya and Waorani peoples, who, in partnership with the US-based non-profit organization ClearWater, is creating a model of indigenous resistance and international solidarity rooted in the defense of indigenous territory, cultural survival, and the building of viable solutions-based alternatives to rainforest destruction.

“We realized that industry, governments and many first-world consumers shared much in common, what unites many of them is money, and comfort, and ignorance (or as we call it, a sickness of the spirit); and that their societies are built on the destruction of our planet; and so we realized that the forces that are threatening our livelihoods have formed an alliance to exploit our resources, and so we decided that we should form an alliance for more worthy causes than exploitation and destruction, causes such as well-being, health, dignity, autonomy, the protection of our lands and cultures.” Ceibo Alliance Leadership Council

Ceibo and ClearWater recognize that the prevailing global economic, social and political system is largely premised on the unchecked exploitation of natural resources from the ancestral territories of the world’s indigenous peoples, who (not coincidentally) are also the guardians of the largest intact expanses of wilderness on the planet. We understand, from first-hand experience, that the dominant approach to rainforest and indigenous rights protection – including top-down conservation projects, carbon-trading schemes, international and national policy advocacy, large-scale humanitarian and development aid, international legal actions, and activist corporate campaigns – are failing to protect the world’s rainforests and indigenous peoples principally because they do not prioritize (or even take into account, and are often directly at odds with) the realities of indigenous peoples living in these forests. We believe that sustainable resistance to the destruction of our ancestral rainforest territories must involve strategies that are developed by indigenous peoples, who are living in the very forests threatened by the world’s global demand for its natural resources. We believe that the future of our planet and human civilization depends on it.

Our Work

The Clean Water and Energy Initiative

The Clean Water and Energy Initiative was born in response to urgent and basic needs of indigenous communities who were without solutions in the face of contamination of their traditional sources of potable water and newly imposed dependencies on the western world by industry. Securing access to clean water and renewable energy for remote indigenous Amazonian communities will ensure not only the health and economic independence of local families, but also provide greater resolve to resist extractive industries and government actors, who for decades have gained access into their territory and to their natural resources through coercive offers of these basic human needs: clean water and electricity. Through the conclusion of the Water Project and the continuation of the Solar Project, Ceibo and ClearWater will provide communities with the ability to make choices based on the long-term survival of their families, their cultures and their ancestral homelands.

The Water Project

The rivers and creeks upon which the indigenous inhabitants of Ecuador’s northern Amazon rely for drinking on a daily basis have been unrelentingly contaminated over decades by massive oil operations, large-scale African Palm plantations, sediment run-off from roads carved through the jungle, and untreated wastewaters from nearby urban settlements. Since 2011, ClearWater and Ceibo have installed more than 800 rainwater harvesting systems alongside family homes across the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon, providing a sustainable source of clean water for over 5,500 people. The Water Project is a hallmark of the Ceibo Alliance and ClearWater’s collaborative work in the Amazon. It was, in fact, the fundamental contributor to the establishment of the Ceibo Alliance, founded by representatives of the four indigenous nationalities involved in ClearWater's project. The Water Project has been the most impactful program that the organizations have undertaken both in terms of tangible benefits and visibility, helping Ceibo and ClearWater explain who we are, what we are doing and how we are doing it.

The Solar Energy Project

The Solar Energy Project is satisfying a basic need for families living deep in the jungle while supporting their self-sufficiency, reducing gasoline-consumption significantly, increasing their energy independence and at the same time reducing the sale of bush meat. Ceibo and ClearWater have already constructed 42 family-size solar energy installations and in 2017 will construct more than 100 in ten Cofan, Secoya, Siona and Waorani communities. The concrete and participatory nature of this project helps indigenous communities better understand our work in the Amazon and earns the Ceibo Alliance and ClearWater the continued trust of the communities. We believe that autonomy and independence from the external world through renewable energy is crucial to territorial conservation.

The Territorial Defense Initiative

The Territorial Defense Initiative is designed to strengthen the capacity of the Cofan, Siona, Secoya and Waorani Nations to defend their 5 million acres of rainforest territories from a host of threats (including the oil industry, African Palm plantations, illegal logging, gold-mining, colonist invasion, road building, and the expansion of the agricultural frontier) through an indigenous-led approach that integrates the following programs: Indigenous Rights Defenders; Territorial Mapping; Environmental Quality Monitoring.

Territorial Mapping Program

The Territorial Mapping Program is a direct response to the prevailing and recurring reality that indigenous peoples find themselves in when confronted by external actors, such as oil companies, mining companies, or government ministries, who use “official maps” backed by legal and community relations discourse to manipulate or deceive them into a host of disadvantaged situations, including unchecked exploitation of their natural resources. The territorial mapping process brings together elders, women and youth to document collective experience in their rainforest territories while at the same time providing the opportunity to collectively reflect on the importance of their territory, understand the nature of the threats facing it, re-assess their position on destructive industrial projects in their territory, and most importantly, decide collectively the future of their rainforest homelands. This program is creating a new model for territorial mapping for indigenous peoples across the Amazon, and the world, by combining an indigenous-led methodology with the empowering use of “modern” technologies -- such as GPS, ARCGIS, aerial drones, motion sensor camera traps, photo and video cameras, customized geographic-information-system software, and other cutting-edge digital web tools.

Indigenous Rights Defenders

The Indigenous Rights Defenders Program is creating spaces for Cofán, Siona, Seocya and Waorani advocates to construct together a shared understanding of the threats facing their communities, the causes of these threats, and to build collective knowledge around how to create legal and advocacy strategies that directly address the unique challenges faced by each community. For decades, without recourse to first-hand legal knowledge and in the absence of viable legal representation, these four nations have seen detrimental environmental violations go unchecked, illegal settlements on their ancestral lands proliferate, negotiations with the government result in superficial or illusory concessions, and their indigenous representatives sign misleading and exploitative industry contracts without free, prior, and informed consent. The Indigenous Rights Defenders Program’s aim is to foster and support action in the defense of these indigenous territories in line with the core belief that sustainable empowerment through knowledge and capacity-building programs is contingent on the adoption of long-term strategies as well as continuous and nurturing accompaniment.

Environmental Quality Monitoring Program

The Environmental Quality Monitoring Program is a direct community-based response to fifty years of environmental contamination, where indigenous peoples were forced to suffer the consequences of the poisoning of their rivers, wetlands, and forests without access to information related to the causes and consequences of that contamination. This program will continue to provide communities with tools and allies that permit them to monitor the quality of their environment and generate data from before, during and after extractive operations near or within their territories. Whether through analyzing fish tissue to determine whether the fish they consume is contaminated from heavy metals or pesticides; to utilizing camera traps to monitor illegal mining, logging and poaching on their territories; to taking water and soil samples in communities near oil operations to free themselves from the untrustworthy information monopoly of the oil companies and government; to forming monitoring groups to protect and maintain their boundaries from colonist invasion, the Environmental Quality Monitoring Program will give indigenous communities power over vital information and generate a body of evidence that each nationality can use to advocate for their rights for greater territorial protection.

The Cultural Survival Initiative

Often decisions related to oil exploration, logging, mining, or even carbon trading schemes, are left in the hands of the younger generations, the “new leaders”, and without a strong connection to their cultural history and their rainforest territory, the decision to opt for the short-term benefits of money and jobs, as opposed to the long-term wisdom of cultural survival and rainforest protection, is alarmingly seductive and unfortunately common. ClearWater and Ceibo are building programs– the Women's Empowerment Program and the Cultural Revival Program – that, together, seek to empower the women, youth and elders of indigenous communities to confront the negative forces that are contributing to cultural loss, such as dependency on extractive industries for income and reliance on western drugs for health care, with solutions-oriented community action, designed to promote economic self-sufficiency and recovery of traditional healing systems.

Cultural Revival (Practicas Propias)

The Cultural Revival Program is rooted in the reality that the ancient wisdom and traditional knowledge of these millenary cultures is disappearing at an alarming rate, and that bridging the gap between elders and youth through community-designed projects in cultural restoration will help to connect youth to their history, their culture, and their identity in ways that will strengthen the collective resolve of each indigenous nation to protect their cultures and rainforest territories. The program focuses on bringing indigenous elders and youth together through projects in the following areas: traditional medicines and healing, traditional food and drink, and the conservation of traditional practices, crafts and arts.

Women's Empowerment Program

An important strategy of the dominant resource-extraction paradigm is to ensure that the ancestral stewards of vast expanses of resource-rich wilderness are locked in a cycle of marginalization and economic dependency on the very actors that seek to exploit resources from within their lands. Through a focus on building concrete, community-based economic alternatives to destructive industry, the Ceibo Alliance and ClearWater seek to challenge the dominant capitalist paradigm by creating sustainable and autonomous indigenous societies in control of their own destinies in a globalized world. The Women's Empowerment Program is prioritizing the creation of spaces for indigenous women to collectively design and build projects in their communities that directly support the health, well-being and economic security of women and their families. We are supporting the economic initiatives of female leaders across dozens of indigenous communities in the formation of community-based micro-enterprises (for example, the commercialization of forest products), the development of food-security initiatives, and in the recovery and usage of traditional plant medicines.

The Storytelling Initiative

The Ceibo Alliance, along with ClearWater, plans to tell the world who we are in our own voice. We plan on producing and sharing dozens of short films, multi-media storytelling maps, and blogs that document the realities of indigenous lives, the challenges that they face, and the positive work that we are carrying-out in the communities. The hope is that through the honest telling of our story, using cutting-edge digital tools, Ceibo and ClearWater will be able to, here in the Amazon, produce deeper community awareness and clarity about the collective challenges that each nation faces and engender opportunities for more creative and effective community responses and, around the globe, broaden our network of allies – media, funders, academic institutions, civil society groups – who, together, will contribute to the sustainability of our organizations, and ultimately the achievement of our vision.

"We believe that we can’t wage this fight alone. One who walks alone will not go very far." Ceibo Alliance Leadership Council

Our Needs Moving Forward

2017 & 2018

The Clean Water and Energy Initiative

  • Fortify our water-harvesting system maintenance and evaluation plan to ensure the 1000 systems are fully-functioning and providing safe drinking water to indigenous families over the next 15 years. Direct Funding
  • Scale our solar project to reach dozens of roadless indigenous villages on the frontlines of the expanding industrial frontier. Partnerships, In-Kind Donations

The Territorial Defense Initiative

  • Scale our efforts to support indigenous nations in the mapping of 5 million acres of their ancestral territory as part of land-titling strategies, forest management plans, and resistance to industrial and agricultural encroachment. Direct Funding, Partnerships, In-Kind Donations (GPS devices, drones, camera traps, outdoor equipment).
  • Strengthen our capacity to support and accompany pressing legal processes of territorial defense and indigenous rights on the local and international levels. Direct Funding, Partnerships.
  • Expand our work to monitor the environment in indigenous territories in order to provide communities with long-withheld information concerning the health of their families and their forests while at the same time opening up avenues for territorial and environmental defense. Direct Funding, Partnerships, In-Kind Donations (water, air and soil monitoring equipment, camera traps, Go-Pros, outdoor equipment).
  • Create an Urgent Action Fund to provide small grants to communities to address urgent needs and community development initiatives. Direct funding of $2500 - $10,000 per grant.
  • Support frontline indigenous communities with appropriate communications technology (radio, satellite phone, remote internet). In-Kind Donations, Partnerships, Direct Funding.

The Cultural Survival Initiative

  • Scale our approach to forest conservation through indigenous cultural revival by bolstering projects in traditional medicines and healing, traditional food and drink, and the conservation of traditional practices, crafts and arts. Direct Funding, Partnerships.
  • Step-up solutions-oriented community action for indigenous women through community-based micro-enterprises, the development of food-security initiatives, and in the recovery and usage of traditional plant medicines. Direct Funding, Partnerships.

The Storytelling Initiative

  • Strengthen our efforts to create and share short films, multi-media storytelling maps, and blogs that document the realities of indigenous lives, the challenges that they face, and the positive work that we are carrying-out in the communities. Direct Funding, Partnerships, In-Kind Donations (cameras and filmmaking equipment, computers and editing tools).

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