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Indigenous Woman Wins Goldman Environmental Prize for Protecting 500,000 Acres of Amazon Rainforest


The indigenous leader of the Amazon, Nemonte Nenquimo, just won the world’s highest award for grassroots environmental activism for her organizing work to save Ecuador’s rainforests.

Nemonte Nenquimo by Jeronimo Zuñiga, Amazon Frontlines – courtesy of the Goldman Environmental Prize

His leadership earned him a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the ‘Green Nobel’.

Nenquimo led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Waorani territory in the Amazon rainforest from oil companies. Nenquimo’s leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in their footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.

The Waorani, numbering around 5,000 today, are traditional hunter-gatherers in this pristine rainforest that overlaps with Yasuní National Park, which, according to the Smithsonian, “may have more species of life than anywhere else in the world.” .

Since the 1960s, oil exploration, logging, and road construction have already had a serious impact on Ecuador’s rainforests and its indigenous people and culture. Oil companies have dumped waste into local rivers and polluted land, leading to spikes in disease and public health abortions.

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In 2018, the Minister of Hydrocarbons of Ecuador announced an auction of 16 new oil contracts located on the titled lands of indigenous nations, in direct violation of their rights.

Nenquimo, 33, co-founded the Ceibo Alliance to fight the planned oil concessions. Mother of a 4-year-old girl, she organized Waorani communities, held regional 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 an organic chocolate and cocoa production business run by women, and ensured training for young Waorani to be filmmakers and document activists. , posting shocking footage for the campaign, including aerial drone footage of the Waorani rainforests.

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Ultimately, he served as lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the government, and in April 2019, Ecuador’s courts ruled in favor of the Waorani, a ruling that was upheld in the appeals court.

He skillfully bridged the worlds of indigenous peoples and Western society, uniting the old and young, and uniting diverse once-divided indigenous tribes, and continues to fight for the rights of indigenous communities today.

The Goldman PrizeFounded in 1989, it is awarded to six environmental heroes each year and awarded annually to activists from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions.

John Goldman, president of the Goldman Environmental Foundation, praised the honorees for “taking a stand, risking their lives and livelihoods, and inspiring us with real and lasting environmental progress.”

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“These six environmental champions reflect the powerful impact one person can have on many.”

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