Indigenous woman and Amazon leader Nemonte Nenquimo has just taken home the world’s foremost award for grassroots environmental activism for her organizing work to save the rainforests of Ecuador.
Nemonte Nenquimo led a campaign and legal action, which resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Waorani territory in the Amazon rainforest from oil companies. Her leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.
Since the 1960s, road building, logging, and oil exploration, have already had a serious impact on Ecuador’s rainforests and her indigenous people and their culture. Waste has been dumped into local rivers by Oil companies, which has contaminated land, resulting in issues in public health such as diseases and miscarriages.
In 2018, Minister of Hydrocarbons in Ecuador announced an auction of 16 new oil contracts located on the titled lands of indigenous nations, which directly violated their rights.
The 33-year-old Nenquimo co-founded the Ceibo Alliance in order to fight back against the planned oil concessions. The mother of a 4-year-old daughter, she organized Waorani communities, held regionwide assemblies, and launched a digital campaign targeting potential investors with the slogan “Our Rainforest is Not for Sale.”
At the same time, Nenquimo proactively helped communities maintain their independence from oil company bribes by installing rainwater harvesting systems and solar panels, supported a woman-led organic cacao and chocolate production business, and secured training for Waorani youth to be filmmakers and document the activists, publishing powerful images for the campaign, including aerial drone footage of the Waorani rainforests.
Ultimately, she served as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the government and in April 2019, Ecuador’s courts ruled in the Waorani’s favor—a ruling which was upheld in the court of appeals.
She deftly bridged the worlds of indigenous people and Western society, bringing together elders and youth, and uniting distinct indigenous tribes that were once divided—and continues to fight for the rights of indigenous communities today.
The Goldman Prize, begun in 1989, and every year it goes to six environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions.
Goldman Environmental Foundation President, John Goldman praised the honorees for:
Taking a stand, risking their lives and livelihoods, and inspiring us with real, lasting environmental progress. These six environmental champions reflect the powerful impact that one person can have on many.John Goldman