“The people of Sarayaku have found it useful to use technology to survive and fight,” explained indigenous Ecuadorian filmmaker Eribeto Gualinga via Skype through a Spanish translator on Tuesday, October 7. “It is one of the ways we have been successful in getting our message to the government.”
Gualinga’s documentary “We Are the Children of the Jaguar” tells the story of the native Kichwa people’s successful case against the Ecuadorian government. It was screened in Kennedy 112 by Assumption’s Latin American Studies department and an open Q and A session was held with the filmmaker afterward.
Gualinga focuses on the Kichwa, who are a community of indigenous people in Sarayaku, located in the Ecuadorian Amazon. According to Gualinga, they had been fighting a case against the Ecuadorian government and oil companies for ten years after their land was illegally invaded and explored for oil in 2002. They won their case in 2012 and were awarded $1.4 million compensation.
Gualinga’s documentary sets the scene by familiarizing the audience with the people of Sarayaku: a woman grinds a yucca plant into a drink, children play in rivers and forests, people live off of natural resources while wearing modern clothes such as baseball jerseys. The local schools teach a traditional lifestyle emphasizing reliance on nature but also teach general subjects such as math and literacy.
The dispute with the oil company began when the Ecuadorian government gave the company a license to work on the land without the permission of the Sarayaku community. Soldiers were brought in from the government to guard the area of exploration. Gualinga, who was studying video communications at the time, recorded the events on camera in order to document the abuses. Gualinga’s footage shows well-armed soldiers standing guard on the riverbank while the people peacefully protest against this intrusion. The soldiers dislike Gualinga filming and ask him to shut off his camera, but he refuses to comply. The soldiers start to search the people and a woman asks “Why? What weapons are we likely to have?”
The community decides to fight back and got in contact with several lawyers including Mario Melo who is interviewed in the film. As the oil company starts to detonate explosives on Sarayaku land, the people hold a meeting in which they decide to bring their case before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica because not one local or government official in Ecuador will listen to them.
Seventeen people are chosen to represent the Sarayaku community including a primary teacher and mother of ten, Ena Santi. Santi explains that other indigenous communities have been negatively affected by oil companies who explore their land. “They destroy the local communities because we can’t do anything if companies come here,” she says. “That’s why we have to fight to save our community.”
The Sarayaku representatives hold a press conference in the Ecuadorian capital of Quito. They wear traditional dress and are interviewed by radio and television programs through which their grievances are finally heard by a wide audience. They hope this will capture the attention of politicians.
When they are finally before the Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, Sarayaku member Patricia Gualinga asks for the court’s protection and to defend their right to be left alone if they say “no”. Back home, the other members of the community are watching the court proceedings on the internet. The end of the documentary sees the delegates of the community return to their lives in Sarayaku, ending with Eriberto Gualinga’s narration: “We may not have riches, but we have the richness of our culture, a healthy environment, the strength of our people”.
The concluding information shows that the Sarayaku not only won their case, but that the Inter-American Court sent out a letter to all nations in the Americas saying that indigenous populations should be consulted before their land is used and lives impacted.
Gualinga explained afterward the huge advantage of social media to the Sarayaku people as shown throughout the film. “Satellite communication is important for updating our website and Facebook pages,” he said as he spoke from the home of a friend in a nearby city with good internet connection. Gualinga’s documentary and the availability of mass media helped the Sarayaku community to become well-known throughout the world and to connect with other indigenous movements in Latin America and Africa, inspiring them through their example.