Ecuador: Victory for uncontacted tribes as oil drilling blocked in historic referendum

August 21, 2023

Contacted Waorani woman in the Yasuní National Park. © Anka Maldonado/Yasunidos

In a historic referendum, people in Ecuador have voted to block oil drilling on uncontacted tribes’ land in the Yasuní National Park.

Leonidas Iza, President of Ecuador’s national Indigenous organization CONAIE, said today: 

"The Ecuadorian people, mindful of life, in solidarity with our uncontacted Tagaeri, Taromenane and Dugakaeri brothers and sisters, said “Yes to Yasuní” in this referendum on August 20th. We have saved their territory, their lives, their food sovereignty, and their medicines in the sacred Yasuní forest”. He added: “In this little piece of territory in the heart of the Amazon, we can find solutions to problems that most affect humanity. Science has shown that the best protected territories in the fight against climate change are Indigenous territories. That’s why we invite the international community to lend a hand, in solidarity and sensitively, to protect the territories that balance the life of Mother Nature, which save species and also humanity.”

Julio Cusurichi Palacios from Peru’s Amazon Indigenous organization AIDESEP said:

“It is extremely important to protect the territory of uncontacted tribes who share land in Ecuador, in the Yasuní National Park, and in Peru, in the Napo Tigre Indigenous Reserve (awaiting creation), to guarantee their rights to life, health, survival and territory, in compliance with international frameworks that governments must implement. In Peru, the government has officially recognized five uncontacted tribes in the Napo Tigre area. These peoples are cross-border peoples, who live on both sides of the border between Peru and Ecuador in the basins of the Napo, Curaray, and Tigre rivers, and their tributaries. They have lived on their ancestral lands for hundreds of years, even before the countries of Ecuador and Peru were established, and they do not recognize artificial borders.”

Survival International is fighting globally for the survival of all the world’s uncontacted tribes. Sarah Shenker, head of Survival’s Uncontacted Tribes campaign, said today: “This is a major victory for Ecuador’s Indigenous movement, and for the global campaign to recognize the rights of uncontacted tribes.

“The uncontacted Tagaeri, Dugakaeri and Taromenane have for years seen their lands invaded, firstly by evangelical missionaries, then by oil companies. Now, at last, they have some hope of living in peace once more. We hope this prompts greater recognition that all uncontacted peoples must have their territories protected if they’re to survive, and thrive.

“Apart from anything else, we know that their territories are the best barrier to deforestation, particularly in the Amazon rainforest. Uncontacted tribes are our contemporaries, a vital part of humankind’s diversity, and the guardians of the most biodiverse places on Earth.”

In Peru, Indigenous organizations have been fighting for more than 20 years to create and protect the Napo-Tigre Indigenous reserve for uncontacted tribes, adjacent to Yasuní. Currently, the oil and gas company Perenco is exploiting Napo-Tigre oil.

Uncontacted Tribes of Peru