The Archipelago of Hope: Wisdom and Resilience from the Edge of Climate Change, by Gleb Raygorodetsky

Loc: 74 Indigenous or traditional knowledge is the wisdom and know-how accumulated from the past to the present, which guide a wide array of human societies in their interaction with their environment.

Loc: 79. Their worldviews, values, cultures, and spirituality are intricately linked with the ways they relate to the environment, and with their past, present, and future, the living and the nonliving, and the seen and the unseen. The Indigenous peoples’ rituals ensure that they respectfully engage with all of these elements. In this context, it is not difficult to understand what Indigenous and traditional knowledge mean and why they value the past in order to sustain and enhance well-being. This centuries-old body of knowledge seeks to guarantee a good life for future generations.

Loc: 83. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s Article 8(j) urges governments to respect, preserve, and maintain knowledge, innovations, and practices of Indigenous peoples and local communities. A working group on Article 8(j) and related provisions has been established as a mechanism to guide its implementation. Indigenous peoples are actively engaged with this body, Loc: 87

Indigenous peoples live in all regions of the world, inhabiting 22 percent of the world’s global land area where 80 percent of the world’s biological diversity is found. These significant numbers show that Indigenous peoples are crucial players in preventing biodiversity erosion. Loc: 97

Part of the rights contained in this UNDRIP is their right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, and their right to protect and develop their intellectual property over these (Article 31). Loc: 108

self-interest to respect and protect traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples as this will contribute to solving problems of climate change, biodiversity erosion, and the gross mismanagement of the gift that the earth provides to everybody. The Archipelago of Hope provides real-life stories of how Indigenous peoples develop and use their traditional knowledge and operationalize the values of reciprocity, solidarity, and collectivity as a way to live life. Loc: 138

“We used to know when it would rain,” he says softly. “Now it is hard to predict whether it will rain or not. We haven’t had long or short rains for years and are suffering in the extreme.” Mr. Saitaga’s metal bracelets clink as, clearing his throat, he wipes his parched lips with the back of his hand. “Animals, women, children, and men—all have suffered greatly. Most of our animals have died,” he says, gesturing toward the mummified carcass of a cow a few yards away, Loc: 146

the Conversations with the Earth project co-founded and facilitated by the participatory video nonprofit InsightShare. Loc: 151

Climate change, in other words, is no longer something that is likely to happen in a distant future—it is already here. Nobody knows this better than Indigenous communities who, having developed an intimate relationship with landscapes and ecosystems over generations, have been observing climate change for decades and increasingly bearing the disproportionate burden of its impacts. Skolt Sámi reindeer herder and salmon fisherman Mr. Jouko Moshnikoff knows firsthand that winters are becoming warmer in his part of the world, and the outbreaks of parasitic autumn moth are becoming more frequent and widespread. The moths are threatening to wipe out birch forests—an important source of spring food for his people’s reindeer. Loc: 158

These communities—islands of biological and cultural diversity in the ever-rising deluge of development and urbanization—are humankind’s “Archipelago of Hope,” for here lies our best chance to remember—or learn—how to care for Earth in a way that keeps it healthy for our descendants. Within these pages, we will encounter diverse Indigenous peoples around the globe reaching deep into the well of their traditions and innovating to come up with creative responses to the many challenges of climate change. Loc: 167

Intimate portraits of local men and women, youth and elders, spiritual leaders, and craftsmen emerge against the backdrop of their traditional livelihoods, helping readers understand what it is like to live on the front lines of climate change. What these people recount is sometimes brutal—corruption that disempowers, pollution that sickens, education that rips children away from their families, and even development that kills—but this is balanced with the positive, the adaptive, the compelling, and often the spiritual. Loc: 175

a number of common characteristics that the United Nations uses to describe Indigenous peoples. They must: •possess a distinct, often a minority, population relative to the dominant postcolonial culture of their country; •have a distinct language, culture, and traditions influenced by living relationships with the ancestral homeland; and •demonstrate a resolve to maintain and reproduce their ancestral environments and systems as distinctive peoples and communities. Loc: 184

We have the knowledge that can contribute to finding solutions to the crisis of climate change. But if you are not prepared to listen, how can we communicate this to you? —Marcos Terena (Xané leader, Inter-Tribal Committee of Brazil) Loc: 208

I had been developing a global grant-making strategy for the Christensen Fund—a private foundation in California working on “backing the stewards of cultural and biological diversity”—to support the efforts of Indigenous peoples worldwide to look after their ancestral territories. Scholars from such respected research institutions as the Missouri Botanical Garden, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Diversity International, International Union for the Protection of Nature (IUCN), and others had gathered at Oxford University in April 2007 Loc: 222

The conference participants contended that excluding Indigenous peoples and local communities from the global discourse on climate change was not merely unjust. Ignoring local and Indigenous peoples and their knowledge—such as growing and using traditional foods as a source of adaptation to warmer weather, relying on non-mechanized, traditional transportation to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and protecting rain forests on their traditional territories to absorb atmospheric carbon—limited humankind’s collective ability to address the multiple challenges of climate change that lie ahead. Loc: 227

though they made up a mere 4 percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples are caretakers of more than a fifth of the earth’s surface, with close to 80 percent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity found on their traditional territories. For ages, such communities have maintained an intimate and vibrant relationship with their environment, guided by their traditional knowledge. Passed on from generation to generation through oral teachings and sustained through daily practice, their knowledge is based on an intimate understanding of landscapes and seascapes born out of the firsthand, tactile, and sensual relationships only possible when a people so deeply inhabits a place. Loc: 231

a know-how as well as a worldview, an intuition as well as a vast “database” of observations and experiences. It is intimately tied to local languages and is never held in its entirety by an individual but always by a collective—a family, a community, a tribe, a territory, or a nation. This knowledge is a foundation upon which day-to-day activities are organized and local rules of conduct among community members, their territory, and other living beings—be they neighbors, animals, or spirits—are based. Loc: 243

Traditional knowledge is based on deep wisdom arising from long-term observations over a relatively small area, embracing the sacred as part of the world we live in and interact with. Science, on the other hand, derives its predictions based on short-term collection of data, suppressing the spiritual. Still, many experts have come to view traditional knowledge as no less rigorous than, and complementary to, conventional science, because both are based on detailed direct observations of natural phenomena, Loc: 250

There is also a growing consensus that local knowledge of Indigenous peoples is the solid foundation for local climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. Loc: 324

It was obvious, however, to anybody who cared to check, that the intelligence of the intelligentsia was surface-deep and no match for the muzhiki, who had intimate knowledge of life and nature—of animals and birds, of weather and seasons, of navigating the waters and traversing the land. All these skills were vital for life in our village. Maybe this is why my father eventually quit his radio job and signed up as a guard at the grocery store’s refrigeration unit—to have more time to hang out with muzhiki and write about them. Loc: 398

ever since, I have had a deep awareness of how our logical mind can be blind to the mysterious and subtle powers of the universe that is unseen, intuitive, and of spirit. As I got older and looked for ways to deepen that sense of intimacy with the world I first developed in Tilichiki, my learnings multiplied. Loc: 411

I longed for that deep connection with the landscape, approaching it with the respect and reverence I often saw reflected in the eyes of local people—men and women, elders and children, hunters and herders, farmers and fishermen, headmen and healers. Loc: 419

As the negative ecological and societal consequences of our actions become increasingly apparent, there is a growing recognition that we must move away from the ways of thinking and acting based on the dominant worldview that sees people as separate from nature, which got us into our current predicament in the first place. In recent years, a number of integrative disciplines—systems science, resilience science, ecosystem health, ethnoecology, deep ecology, Gaia Theory, and others—have sought ways to advance our understanding of the complex, nonlinear, and multidimensional relationships between people and nature, Loc: 429

As Dr. Luisa Maffi, one of the pioneers in this field, documents in her book Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook many of these systems continue to endure today worldwide. Most of the examples in the book—from relying on taboos to maintain traditional conservation sites in the Marshall Islands to using traditional knowledge to coexist with endangered crocodiles in the Philippines—come from Indigenous peoples who continue to maintain biocultural systems by practicing their time-tested ways of looking after their traditional territories. Loc: 433

they are very resilient, which simply means that, when facing change, they are capable of learning and adapting by self-organizing to maintain their essential functions. Tight feedback between social and ecological parts of a biocultural system ensures that it responds to changes in timely and appropriate ways, often detecting approaching shifts long before they are capable of flipping the system into a new state. Indigenous knowledge of the environment is one such feedback mechanism that enables communities to monitor the state of the system and detect change before it is too late. Loc: 459

“Our elders gave me permission to share this information with you,” said Tero to emphasize to the audience that though what he was about to share was not his own knowledge, he had been given permission to share by the original knowledge holders. “They want you to know that new winds are blowing across the land now. They do not know these winds but still try to greet them.” Loc: 463

“To really understand what climate change means,” he continued, “you need to spend time with us on our land.” Tero’s words cut through the tangle of PowerPoint presentations and endless soliloquies with the precision of a fisherman’s blade, revealing the very essence of the challenges faced by local communities. I wanted to learn more from Tero, and Loc: 481

With nonprofits InsighShare, Land is Life, Project World, and Conversation du Monde—led by Nicolas Villaume, an award-winning photographer, I helped cofound a project called Conversations with the Earth (CWE)—an Indigenous-led multimedia initiative that amplifies Indigenous voices in the global discourse on ecological and cultural challenges facing the planet, including climate change. More than a million visitors saw CWE exhibits at the National Museum of Denmark, in Copenhagen; the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, DC; and the United Nations Headquarters Loc: 538

the Finnish word for snow, lumi, that captures the true nature of Snowchange—“a call to arms.” “We are not doing our work for some abstract noble cause,” explains Tero. “On the contrary, we have a very selfish motivation—to see our villages thrive, as our forests are restored to prime condition, our fisheries are strong, and our hunting areas are healthy. Those of us who appreciate the full meaning of this want to see our Finnish-Karelian culture come back—complete rebirth on the land. Loc: 547

we work on the issues that are important to our communities, even when nobody else would consider it. As a true community-based network, we are not driven by the need for funding, careers, or mission statements created to fit the funders’ needs. Snowchange is all about grassroots—the communities that still have a connection with the land, like Selkie. Ultimately, this is the only thing that works. Other things—like science, national debates, or media—aren’t irrelevant, but are not as meaningful for us. Loc: 551

“I don’t take this mandate for granted. I have to earn it daily. To stay grounded, I spend a lot of time on the lakes and in the bush with our elders.” Two Finnish elders, members of the network’s steering committee, who have lived on the land all their lives, guide Tero and Snowchange’s work. “That’s where I get the nourishment for my body and my soul. “We work a lot with the Sámi, but the first thing I say after greeting the audience, just to make sure that there are no misunderstandings,” Tero continues, “is that I am a Karelian Finn, not a Sámi. Loc: 580

Last spring, their storage shed was flooded during the extreme snowmelt, something that has not been recorded in all the two and a half centuries of Havukkavaara history. Summer and winter seining has always been an important subsistence activity for Selkie villagers, but now climate change is making it more difficult to practice. Ice leads on the local lakes no longer appear in regular places, making winter travel more treacherous for the locals. According to the old Selkie residents, the winter of 1986 was the last real winter, when the lakes and rivers froze by mid-November. Loc: 585

the ice doesn’t form until January, when the temperature finally dips below –4 degrees Fahrenheit for several nights in a row. The spring breakup, on the other hand, starts earlier, shortening the ice fishing and travel season. As summers become warmer—the hottest day on record in Finland was 99 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in 2010, not far from Selkie—the fish seek cooler waters at the bottom of the lakes, making seining less successful. According to climate models, the average annual temperature in Finland is expected to rise at least three degrees Fahrenheit by 2040, and up to twelve degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Loc: 595

impact on the life of the Sámi reindeer herders and fishermen. Over the last decade and a half, the ice and snow conditions in Lapland have changed dramatically. The freeze-up used to take place in November, but now it comes in December or even January, and sometimes rivers do not freeze at all. When the lakes and rivers do freeze, the ice is no longer as thick and as strong as it was in the past, making the herders uneasy about traveling along their customary winter trails over frozen water. Bogs and marshes also freeze late, which makes reindeer travel more challenging and forces Sámi to change their travel routes and adjust their annual herding calendar. Loc: 599

the snow season now starts later, the soft blanket of snow normally protecting lichen—the main winter food of reindeer—is much thinner and doesn’t last as long, leaving the reindeer food more vulnerable to the cold and overgrazing. In the winter, spells of warm weather are becoming more common, leading to “rain-on-snow” events, which makes it almost impossible for reindeer to dig up their lichen. The herders then have to buy supplemental fodder, like hay and food pellets, if they do not want their animals to starve, which puts a greater financial strain on their enterprise. Loc: 625

Skolts are considered to be the most traditional Sámi reindeer herding and fishermen group because they retain their native language and continue to rely on a centuries-old customary governance system, a community council called Sääbbar in Skolt that makes decisions about land use, fishing, and herding. Fishing used to be the Skolts’ main traditional livelihood, supplemented by hunting of wild animals, including wild reindeer. Small reindeer herds were kept for transportation, milk, and as decoys to lure wild reindeer to hunt. As wild reindeer stocks declined in the 19th century, Sámi began to gradually switch to reindeer herding but kept their fishing practice strong. Loc: 665

two large Canadian mining companies—Barrick Gold and Puma Exploration—were gearing up to begin mining on the Skolt Sámi land in Russia. Immediately, Tero wrote to the International Sámi Council—a governing body representing Sámi of all four Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Russia)—asking for help. Ms. Pauliina Feodoroff—the newly elected president of the Sámi Council at the time, and a Skolt Sámi herself—immediately responded. Soon, they were working together on a land-use study to demonstrate that the area where the mining operations were planned was not vacant but was, in fact, the traditional territory of the Skolt Sámi, Loc: 788

Näätämö River watershed, where many fishing camps, including Jouko’s, are located. In the old days, salmon was used as a tribute payment to the Russian czar, and old taxation records show that Skolt Sámi have been harvesting salmon on the Näätämö River since the 16th century. These ancient scrolls, carefully preserved by generations of Skolts, are now part of the Memory of the World program of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They are recognized Loc: 822

Unlike their Pacific relatives, which die after spawning, Atlantic salmon become kelts, or post-spawners, that travel back to the estuary or the ocean to feed, before returning to spawn the following year. Historically abundant throughout the North Atlantic, wild Atlantic salmon populations currently teeter on the brink of extinction in the United States and parts of southern Canada. They have completely disappeared in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. In Finland, before World War II, there were thirty to forty wild salmon rivers. Today, because of development pressures, there are only four watersheds that still have salmon, Loc: 827

an important source of livelihood for the Skolts. The Näätämö watershed supports an annual catch of about a dozen tons of salmon, which is just a tenth of what is still caught annually in the Tana River, the largest of the four remaining wild salmon watersheds in Finland. According to Dr. Eero Niemelä, an Atlantic salmon expert from the Natural Resources Institute of Finland, salmon has the capacity to adapt to small incremental changes in the environment. But if the changes unfold too fast, as is happening now, it is unclear how the fish will respond. The timing of spawning depends on the air and water temperatures. If Loc: 835

At the same time, as the coastal waters warm up, southern predatory fish species, like mackerel, also move northward, feeding on juvenile salmon, which obviously reduces salmon survival. “Hot and dry summers are new to us,” observes Vladimir. “The low water level, like we had last year, causes lots of problems for Näätämö salmon, as do the warm water temperatures.” When water level is low at the freeze-up time, he continues, the spawning sites may freeze all the way to the bottom, often destroying salmon eggs. Vladimir and Illep found dead roe in deep pools along the main river channel, a sure sign that the previous year’s spawning had failed. The year before that, however, the water level in the river was too high because of the abundant snowmelt, and the strong river current washed out salmon eggs Loc: 849

international Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative, or IPCCA, a global network of Indigenous communities from India, Thailand, the Philippines, Panama, and Finland working on developing culturally appropriate strategies to cope with climate change. The project’s goal is to help the Skolts develop a climate change adaptation plan focused on sustaining the Skolts’ traditional Atlantic salmon fishery along the Näätämö River. Loc: 856

the Skolt-Snowchange partnership drafted the Näätämö River Collaborative Management Plan proposing a set of specific recommendations that, the Skolts hope, gives them a better say in how the salmon fishery and the river are managed. Even small changes made by humans on the Näätämö River, Vladimir explains, can undermine the salmon’s ability to adapt to climate change. When something even seemingly as trivial as moving rocks in the stream takes place—like when tourists make a river crossing—it impacts Loc: 888

Before the snowmobiles arrived, the Skolts would spend most of the year with their reindeer. Each family relied on the animals to haul water from nearby streams, fish and meat from distant lakes and herding areas, firewood and building supplies from the forest. In the winter, the herders would make frequent trips from their village to the herds, chasing away predators and getting fresh meat. Most families made a couple of long annual trips to Norwegian trading posts to fetch supplies. Each trip usually required four sleds pulled by four draft reindeer, with a couple more animals following each sled as a backup. Loc: 893

traditional herding practices meant that animals and herders were in constant contact, which made reindeer more tame and easier to manage. The Skolts’ transportation system was more reliable and ecologically friendly than even that of other Arctic Indigenous groups, such as dog teams of the Inuit, who had to hunt and fish to feed their draft animals. Reindeer sleds provided a self-sufficient system that was independent of outside sources of energy—whether meat, fish, or fuel—because they could find food pretty much anywhere. But the arrival of snowmobiles changed this system and lifestyle forever. Loc: 898

A trip to fetch supplies on the Norwegian side of the border that in the past lasted three days by reindeer now took only five hours by snowmobile. The winter of 1962 was the first time the Skolt reindeer heard the din of a snow machine engine. In just five years, all the reindeer work was done on snowmobiles. As new, safer, and faster snowmobile models—more suited for driving on rough terrain—proliferated, the change became irreversible. Loc: 902

By 1971, a mere ten years after the first snowmobile was introduced, each of the seventy-two households in the village had at least one snow machine. Everything, however, comes at a price. The snowmobile revolution pushed the Skolts into a regime of cash dependency, debt, and unemployment, disrupting their traditional egalitarian society. To purchase a snowmobile, gasoline, spare parts, and repairs, Skolts needed a significant amount of cash—a new machine would set them back US $1,000, with gas and repairs adding up to another $400 per year. Yet these expenses were now considered a household necessity, Loc: 907

More troubling was the rapid deterioration of the intimate relationship between the Skolts and their reindeer, because the racket and stench of the machinery drove reindeer away. The animals were no longer led on foot or skis into the roundup area, but, to save time and money, were pushed as quickly as possible toward the corral with the machines. These intensive roundups had such a negative impact on the health of the animals that their average weight dropped compared to the presnowmobile days. As a result, herders had to sell more animals in order to earn enough cash Loc: 912

Moreover, stressed-out and frightened by the noise and chase, reindeer cows had fewer calves. Reindeer learned to avoid snowmobiles at all costs and to hide in the most inaccessible parts of the forest. The average number of reindeer in Sevettijärvi dropped from fifty-two to about twelve per household in 1971, a mere decade after snowmobile introduction. Almost two-thirds of the Skolt households abandoned reindeer herding and became unemployed, because it was hard to find any paid work. Loc: 970

“All my life I believed what I was told by the officials. Doctors told me that I was a damaged person. My government told me that my people’s culture and language were dying. I felt like I’ve had ‘extinction’ tattooed on my forehead. Yet, I’m still alive and well, and so are my people. In spite of everything.” Two narratives about Pauliina’s people, perpetuated by the government, shaped her childhood. The first one was a story of the Indigenous peoples, like the Skolts, being less intelligent than non-Indigenous persons. “We were told that we were genetically weaker and had less nerve cells in our brains than the Finns,” Pauliina recalls Loc: 1,007

As the climate shifts, the weather pendulum starts to swing erratically, making it hard for the Skolts to rely on traditional weather- and season-forecasting signs. In the old days, the transition from season to season was gradual and predictable. Ant behavior was one of the Skolts’ traditional ways of forecasting the weather. If there were no ants on the surface of an anthill, they expected rain in the next two to three hours. If the weather was foul, but the ants were coming up to the surface, then the sun would be out in a few hours. The herders used clouds to predict changes in wind, and animal behavior and the appearance of the moon and stars to foresee rain and snow conditions. Loc: 1,013

If the northern lights were low in the sky, a snowstorm was coming; if they were high, it was going to get very cold. Today, these indicators are not as reliable as they used to be. The weather has become a hodgepodge of things, making it much harder to predict. To anticipate weather today, Skolt Sámi rely on a mixture of modern tools and traditional knowledge. Weather reports on the local radio are as closely tracked as the behavior of birds, animals, and even dogs. Loc: 1,017

with climate change,” says Tero, “is that you might have one weather pattern here in the foothills, but it would be completely different in the valley. It could be hailing in one place, dumping snow in another, and the trees could be budding somewhere else.” The future of the Skolts and their land during this time of climatic upheaval depends on their ability to find ways of maintaining the balance in their relationships with the land and water, forest and tundra, reindeer and salmon. Skolts feel that this could be achieved only through respectful collaboration with others who have a stake in the future of the region and its biocultural systems, Loc: 1,024

“Nobody chooses where they are born,” Pauliina continues. “I was born to be part of a people who just happened to be living on the land that had resources somebody else wanted. When the mining boom came to the Skolts’ lands, the smelters literally melted the land with acid rain. There were also nuclear tests on the Soviet Kola Peninsula, with the radioactive fallout drifting in our direction. It damaged not just the land and the forest but also my people, because for us, everything is connected and everybody is related. “This realization almost crushes you mentally.” Loc: 1,029

“But there is also a glimmer of hope—if the land can heal, even if it takes a long time, it means that we can also heal together with the land. When I am on the land, I get the knowledge from it directly through my body. Nobody holds power over me when I am here. Nobody says that their knowledge is superior to mine and if I don’t do exactly what I’m being told, bad things would happen to me. There is no need to desire more of something, to want some magic from somewhere else. The magic is already here, all around us. If we stay with the land and take care of it, it will give us everything we need.” Loc: 1,071

The Nenets reindeer herders, who have lived in Yamal since time immemorial, make up the majority of the Indigenous population. Russian traders arrived here at the end of the 16th century, on the heels of Yermak—who led a band of Cossacks into the region to begin the conquest of Siberia for the Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible. The Russian name for the Nenets was Samoyed, or self-eaters—a “strange” northern tribe who, according to the Russian chronicles of that period, drank human blood, had mouths between their shoulders, and perished every winter. The name, however, most likely has a more prosaic origin. Loc: 1,076

the Sámi, Saam-Edne means the Land of the People. Though their own name, the Nenets, or Real People, was officially returned to them by the Soviet State after Russia’s Great October Revolution of 1917, it came at a price—the tribal leaders, shamans, and their land rights were taken away by the Soviet state, because shamans and tribal leaders were considered a threat to the new regime. According to Dr. Bruce Forbes, a professor of geography at the University of Lapland’s Arctic Center, who has spent more than two decades working with the Yamal Nenets, Loc: 1,086

In the winter, the tundra Nenets would return south, to the forest edge, to get wood for building their chums and sleds, and bring their herds to the winter pastures rich in yagel—reindeer moss, an important winter food of reindeer. As a result, Nenets remained relatively free of the Russian yoke, almost until the Soviet period. The Nenets have managed to sustain their language, worldview, customs, and governance, as well as their land-use traditions of herding, hunting, and fishing. And the eight-hundred-mile perennial journey of the northern nomads has continued to be one of the longest annual migrations on earth. Loc: 1,096

Over the last two decades, industrial development and climate change have been testing the Nenets’ resilience. Russia’s quest for new sources of hydrocarbons, to replace declining production in aging oil and gas fields in southern Western Siberia, has reduced the total area of reindeer pastures in Yamal and restricted the movement of the reindeer herds on the peninsula, leading to overgrazing in some areas. Climate change—with increasing permafrost thaw, shifting seasons, unpredictable warm spells in the winter—has further challenged the Nenets’ ability to sustain their way of life. Loc: 1,123

“Our herd’s only beginning to recover from the big die-off two years ago, when the pastures got covered with ice. The surviving reindeer were just too weak to travel far, the spring breakup came too early, and we got stuck crossing the river. The Brigade Number Eight usually migrates just to the west of us, and they had similar problems. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to make it to the summer pastures on the coast and get back for the winter, so we decided to stay further south.” Loc: 1,130

This “rain-on-snow” extreme weather event—or salaba’ ya in Nenets—covered a vast area of Yamal lichen pastures, making it impossible for most herders to move their animals to unaffected pastures. As climate warms, such events are becoming more frequent. More than forty thousand reindeer died during that season throughout Yamal. A number of Nenets families with small private herds lost most of their animals and had to switch to fishing while rebuilding their herds. “With no food, reindeer can last a couple of weeks or so,” explains Yura, blowing on his steaming tea and taking a cautious sip. “But they weaken quickly and cannot pull the sleds. Soon enough they just lie down and don’t get up.” The following year, explains Yura, another early spring breakup prevented their herd from advancing north far enough to make it to the coast. Loc: 1,276

Gazprom to reduce surface pollution around Bovanenkovo by freezing the by-products of its drilling operations deep underground. Drill muds and other liquid waste are injected into underground reservoirs steamed out of the permafrost at depths below two hundred feet. At this depth, the waste will eventually freeze, though it may take several decades, Osokin explained. This approach makes the clean up significantly cheaper for Gazprom than shipping the pollutants south by train. Twenty-eight reservoirs have been built and filled to date. They will ultimately hold a total of twelve million cubic feet, the equivalent of 145 Olympic-size swimming pools, of drilling and production waste, Loc: 1,282

The summer of 2012, for example, was one of the warmest on record. It brought about three weeks of 90-degree Fahrenheit weather to Bovanenkovo. Almost immediately, there was a spike in the rate of permafrost thaw, and a major sinkhole (120 by 400 feet wide, and 20 feet deep) opened up right next to Bovanenkovo’s central power line. At the time, the workers were able to backfill the crater, secure the power line, and freeze the ground by installing additional thermal exchange units. Loc: 1,286

unnatural natural events like the Yamal crater. In the summer of 2014, a 130-foot-wide and 115-foot-deep pit opened up in the middle of the tundra, nineteen miles southeast of Bovanenkovo. Experts believe that it was created as a result of methane gas exploding from the deep layers of permafrost. As the “permanently” frozen earth thaws out, the methane hydrates locked up deep underground transform from a solid to gaseous state and, increasing in volume nearly 160-fold, blasts through the upper layers of soil in an eruption. Loc: 1,291

similar eruptions may occur in Bovanenkovo, causing considerable damage to the infrastructure, including the underground waste disposal sites. More recently, in the summer of 2016, a video made by a group of Russian researchers puncturing a three-foot-wide “bubble” of tundra and lighting up the escaping methane, went viral on social media. And in the summer of 2017, two more crater eruptions were reported in Yamal, one occurring near a herding camp. Loc: 1,298

The pipeline we just crossed, however, cuts right through this traditional encampment, shrinking in half the space available for the eight chums. Here, the semicircle of the Nenets’ chums, surrounded with sleds and reindeer, is a symbol of a cyclical world where people are an integral part of nature, not separate from or positioned above it. Their well-being is a product of the timeless coevolution between the people and their land that provides for current and future generations—wood for the sleds, reindeer skins for the chums, fish for the table. Loc: 1,304

the rival worldview. It sees people in general, and Western civilization in particular, as being beyond the natural laws governing life, entitled to take from nature anything it craves, like natural gas. The future of the Nenets depends on which of these worldviews prevails in Yamal. Loc: 1,316

camp. If this is the day to kaslat’, the real work of breaking the camp begins in the evening so that we are ready to travel when it cools off a little, around 9:00 to 10:00 P.M. This has been yet another scorching summer in Yamal, the second in the last four years, with the thermometer hitting 94 degrees Fahrenheit near Salekhard. Before the summer is out, a boy and more than 2,300 reindeer in southern Yamal will have died from an outbreak of anthrax—a direct result of thawing permafrost, Loc: 1,322

The hot weather has taxed both the animals and the herders. It is hard for reindeer to pull the sleds over dry grass and moss. The animals have not completely shed their winter coats either, and tire easily in the heat. Even with my experience of working in the tropics, I still find it too hot to sleep inside the chum. But Nyadma is visibly much more uncomfortable with the summer heat, or epdia in Nenets, and laments the lack of rain. The herders say that the only escape from the heat is on the coastal tundra, and they are eager to get there soon. Loc: 1,441

As Bovanenkovo continues to expand, the Nenets reindeer herders, whose inherent rights to their ancestral territory remain unrecognized by the Russian state, are being squeezed from all sides. A new processing facility, with all the associated roads, pipelines, and buildings, is scheduled to come online in the next couple of years. Two new railroad lines are being constructed to connect Bovanenkovo and Payuta, in the west with the Port Sabetta, and Novyi Port in the east, respectively. This new infrastructure will sever many reindeer migration routes on the peninsula. Loc: 1,446

projected to come online in the early 2020s. This field lies under the exceptionally rich reindeer summer pastures, which the Nenets herders consider to be a northern “oasis” and the ultimate destination of their annual migration. In addition to a higher diversity of plants for animals to graze on, here the reindeer can also get minerals and micronutrients important for their diet. As the growing footprint of Bovanenkovo reduces the available pastures in the area, the Kruzenshternskoye coastal tundra has become more important than ever. Loc: 1,488

A sudden thunderous roar drowns out most of the sounds inside the chum. I step outside to take a look. I can no longer hear the clicking of reindeer hooves, yelping of the Nenets dogs, or the chatter of children. The roar is deafening, as if a jumbo jet is taking off from a runway right next to the tents. A few hundred yards from the campsite, a sooty pipe belches out a blazing crimson ball of fire—a gas flare releasing pressure in the pipeline. Above this fragment of the shattered sun, the boundaries between tundra, water, and sky transform into a pulsating mirage of swirling blues, browns, and greens, as the familiar landscape features melt into a shapeless quivering phantasm. Sometime later, the gas flare is shut off, Loc: 1,545

Mountain regions make up more than a quarter of the planet’s surface, providing homes for more than a billion people. The mountain regions harvest water from the atmosphere and store it in snowpack, glaciers, and permafrost. Released from the mountains in the spring, water flows to the lowlands, sustaining rich biodiversity and supporting agriculture. Because of their height, slope, and exposure, mountain ecosystems are more sensitive to climate change than valleys and plains at low elevations. Loc: 1,553

Normally, the glacial ice is maintained through a dynamic equilibrium between snowfall and snowmelt in the mountains. As the temperatures rise, the scale tips more and more toward the thaw, causing the glaciers to disappear faster than they can be replaced by the winter snow. Over the last century, the European Alps have lost up to 40 percent of their ice, New Zealand, 25 percent, and Africa’s Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro as much as 60 percent. According to the latest IPCC assessment report—the most authoritative and influential reference on global trends of climate change published every seven years— Loc: 1,558

over the first decade of the new millennium, that rate of ice melt has accelerated by about 15 percent. In weight, this is equivalent to forty-three thousand Great (Ice) Pyramids of Giza thawing every year. Such loss of glaciers increases the likelihood of catastrophic floods and erosion, and foreshadows a rise in sea level, as the increased glacial melt reaches the ocean. But glaciers are not just isolated slabs of ice in the inaccessible reaches of anonymous mountain ranges. They are an integral part of the local socioecological systems. Loc: 1,577

Toward the end of the 17th century, Altai became a newfound home for the persecuted Russian starovery, or Old Believers, who refused to accept religious reforms imposed by the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Nikon, in 1652. The reforms, supported by the Russian czar, amounted to more than four hundred pages of alterations to the liturgical texts and rites that Nikon decreed unilaterally in an attempt to better align the Russian Orthodoxy with the Greek Orthodox Church. The changes—like the introduction of a three-fingered sign of the cross—were unacceptable to the starovery, Loc: 1,583

Indigenous and starovery cultures remain strong in Altai, despite a seemingly endless string of social and cultural adversities that have plagued the country during the 20th century. The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 was followed by purges of kulaks, or fists in Russian, as Soviet authorities called well-off landowners and farmers in the 1920s, although it quickly devolved into an all-out war on anyone potentially subversive to the Soviet regime. During Stalin’s reign of terror in the 1930s, hundreds of Altai shamans were exterminated. Loc: 1,616

I had heard of Danil’s work to establish the Uch-Enmek Nature Park. His approach was rooted in the emerging global understanding, as well as his personal conviction, that supporting local traditions of land use and management, including protection of sacred natural sites, was a better way of sustaining local biological and cultural diversity than the accepted Eurocentric conservation approaches based on saving “wilderness” and wildlife behind the imaginary walls of strictly protected areas, while restricting human access. Loc: 1,620

Uch-Enmek Nature Park became the first such protected area in Altai—and in Russia—intended specifically not to keep “wilderness” away from locals behind the park’s boundary but to recognize and protect the ancient relationship between the Altai people and their traditional territory. This included sustaining the movement of nomadic Altai tribes and their herds from summer to winter pastures, as well as their reverential care for the ancestral sacred sites of the Karakol Valley. Loc: 1,641

When, in the 1990s, Russia broke with the Soviet past of collective ownership and state monopoly of the land, it began reinventing private property in all possible guises, including land privatization. Many local people, who had continued to revere sacred sites around Altai through the decades of persecution by the Soviet state, worried that the culturally significant places, like the ancient kurgans and sacred sites, would be overwhelmed in a land grab. They feared that, once the land became privately owned, instead of being collectively shared, landowners could abuse it Loc: 1,645

ensure that Altai’s ancestral landscapes, like Uch-Enmek Mountain and the Karakol Valley, remained whole, rather than divided up and sold to the highest bidder. More importantly, they wanted to guarantee that the land was accessible to local people on their own terms, defined by their traditional obligations to the land rather than by private property laws imposed by some outside authority. In 2001, after several years of steadfast work, Danil and his local partners created Uch-Enmek Nature Park, to protect Uch-Enmek Mountain and the Karakol Valley from the anticipated land grab while making the new park a cornerstone for cultural revival through ecological and culture-based tourism, traditional craftsmanship, and education. Loc: 1,651

nature for us, the Altai people, has a different meaning than it does for the government. For us, Altai is a living and breathing being with whom we’ve developed a relationship over generations, well before there were any states or parks. One cannot put nature in a park.” Loc: 1,670

his elders taught him not to harm nature, which, as he learned later, was exactly what modern conservation science was advocating. Altai ancient traditions had also taught him that everything was connected, something that quantum physics and ecology began to understand relatively recently. Danil became convinced that Altai traditional teachings simply used a language different from accepted scientific conventions to express the same fundamental principles of how the world works. Loc: 1,674

my people’s traditional worldview is, in many ways, more advanced,” Danil continued. “For generations it has taught us how to look after our land. Most of the unspoiled nature that is still found in Altai, and its so-called spiritual magnetism, are here because my people have been following our ancient teachings. The juvenile Western science, on the other hand, has done a lot of damage to our environment and culture. I just hope we can survive its adolescence.” Loc: 1,684

“These ancient petroglyphs have been with us for generations, but now they crack and break off in many places. It’s because the weather’s changing. We never used to have rains in winter, or tornadoes and torrential downpours in the summer. But lately these things happen more often, eroding the rocks much faster and destroying our heritage.” On the way back to the car, we talked about organizing a trip around Altai to learn about the local experiences of climate change. Loc: 1,736

“Maria Amanchina is Arzhan’s friend. She is one of the few remaining healers still fulfilling their traditional responsibilities and carrying out the rituals to keep Altai healthy and balanced. Arzhan says that we should spend some time with her. She would have a few things to share.” We are going to pick up Maria on our Loc: 1,754

“In the past, everybody knew when winter was coming and what to expect during the spring. We could predict what the weather would be like and plan when and where to move our cattle and sheep. That’s getting much harder to do now.” Oleg describes how last winter came early, but it was mild and with little snow. As a result, the spring pastures remained dry, which made it hard for locals to keep their cattle healthy. Strong winds used to be uncommon, but over the last few years they have been getting stronger, more frequent, and less predictable. In many places, the strong winds hardened the snow, making it difficult for the cattle to move around and find grass. Loc: 1,759

rains are now short, but they come down very hard,” Oleg continues, comparing the recent downpours to the prolonged drizzles common in the past. “Still, for the last three years it was very dry, the grass burned, and there was nothing for the cattle to eat. We kept our sheep to eat, but had to sell all of the cattle.” Maybe it is because there is less ice in the mountains now, muses Oleg, though different people have different opinions about this. Loc: 1,767

the 13,200-foot-tall Aktru Mountain, which gives birth to the Aktru glacier, is a sacred site for the local people, and the tourists coming here do not behave in a respectful way, Oleg grumbles. They booze, climb all over the place, and make a racket, showing little regard for local people and their traditions. More troublesome is their lack of respect for the spirits, or “bosses,” of these sacred places, says Oleg. In addition to the physical impact, the visitors’ insolence leaves a heavy spiritual imprint on the land. When they leave, it is the local people who must deal with the consequences Loc: 1,771

local shamans carrying out traditional ceremonies to restore the balance between local people, the glaciers, the mountains, and Altai. Ultimately, Oleg concludes, climate change is a symptom of people’s ignorant actions upsetting the natural balance of life on Earth. In the Altai traditional worldview, all natural things—whether plants or planets, bees or boulders, spiders or spirits—are recognized as conscious living beings, endowed with all the functions, feelings, and follies of a person. Loc: 1,775

Altai is a breathing and sensuous living entity, with which they must keep their relationship in balance if they want to have a good life. If nature is not treated with reverence, reciprocity, respect, and restraint, the relationship becomes compromised, leading to environmental imbalance, such as climate change. Altai people support this relationship through cultural practices and ceremonies that restore and maintain their bonds with local animals and plants, sacred mountains and springs, wind and water. Loc: 1,779

Each village has an ancient altar that has been used for such ceremonies for generations. To this day, ancestral Altai clans preserve and pass on the lore of their intimate relationships with totem animals and plants, sacred mountains and lakes, their ancestors and spirits. Indigenous peoples, whether they are the Altai or Skolt, as well as scientists, recognize, however, that Earth’s self-regulation is not limitless. If certain conditions within the system change too significantly, or rapidly, the system can pass a tipping point and flip into a new, potentially irreversible, state a lot less supportive of human well-being. Loc: 1,799

Like other Indigenous peoples in mountain regions around the world, the Altai people are intimately familiar with the water cycle in all its incarnations—blizzards and icy glaciers, replenishing rains and permafrost. Over the last decades, they have seen it beginning to shift. Extreme weather events rarely experienced in the past—precipitous floods, summer hailstorms, and even tornadoes—are now a regular occurrence. Summer rains have become more intense, the glaciers are shrinking, it rains in winter, and on the Ukok Plateau, where we are heading next, the permafrost is disappearing, threatening Altai’s cultural heritage and, indeed, their very survival. Loc: 1,831

Twenty-four centuries ago, a noblewoman from the nomadic Pazyryk tribe, the ancestors of the modern-day Altai peoples, had been placed in an oversize sarcophagus hewn from a single larch log and lowered into an underground chamber at the bottom of a large kurgan. Six sacrificial horses, richly saddled and harnessed, were laid to rest on the northern side of the burial chamber. Ceramic jugs, dishes, an iron knife, and two portable wooden tables—all the implements the deceased would need on her horseback journey into the realm of her ancestors—had been set on the felt-covered floor. The woman’s body was mummified with herbs, bark, and the fur of kunitsa, Loc: 1,836

pine marten. Intricate tattoos of mythical animals adorned her shoulders and arms—a deer with an eagle’s beak, its antlers blossoming into griffon heads, and a spotted panther with a long, up-curved tail, likely a snow leopard. The woman’s three-foot-tall hairpiece was festooned with gold-plated wooden figurines of animals, as befitted one of Pazyryk’s nobility. Loc: 1,847

unlike the scientists, have absolutely no doubt about her role in the past, present, and future of Altai. This daughter of Altai was buried on the sacred mountain plateau among her ancestors to ensure the peace and well-being of her people. The eerie nightmares reported by the archaeologists during the excavation, the near-crash of the helicopter as the sarcophagus was being airlifted from Ukok to Novosibirsk, and several powerful earthquakes during the ensuing years, have all been unequivocal signs to local people that the princess’s removal from Ukok had unhinged the long-established equilibrium in the region. Loc: 1,851

adamant that she must be returned to her rightful final resting place as soon as possible in order to restore the balance. Without the princess on the Ukok Plateau, Maria explains, the Altai people are struggling to maintain the balance in their lives—whether they have to overcome daily strife, fight the planned pipeline, or deal with climate change. This is why, Maria says, she has been working so hard to bring the princess back to her Ukok home. Loc: 1,924

“In the past,” Maria says, “the energy of the earth was so pure, because people didn’t despoil it. Now, because of the pollution, many plants and animals and people are sick, dying, and disappearing. When I was little, airplanes were just starting to fly over our land. My father told me that a thousand years from now, the sky would get polluted and all the contamination would end up back on Earth with rain and snow and the earth would turn into sand and everything would disappear. If we don’t want to end up living my father’s vision of our future, we should not be going up in the sky [air and space travel] and digging things out of the ground

[archaeology Loc: 1,929

We should be more respectful of
our Mother Earth. Only in that way can we save the world for our children.
“Every tree, every flower, every blade of grass is alive, just like us,” Maria
continues. “We need to have a relationship with them. Because I respect them,
all kinds of creatures—bugs and butterflies, squirrels and birds—come to me,
asking for help. When I hug a tree, say, a birch, and if I have some negative
energy in me, it pushes me away and I feel it intuitively at the energy level,
whether it is positive or negative. Loc: 1,933

find a way to communicate with
nature. If every human being could feel nature, the world would be saved. We
must save Mother Earth, so that we ourselves don’t disappear.” This is why,
concludes Maria, Altai people oppose all human activities that harm the earth,
whether it is the construction of a gas pipeline, or the disturbance of the
ancestral remains at sacred sites—even if it is done with the best of
intentions. All such acts ultimately… Some highlights have been hidden or
truncated due to export limits.Loc: 1,941

“Did you feel the energy of Ukok?”
Maria asks me as I am about to step out the door. “It always feels so soft and
gentle,” she says, “as if swimming in a fresh mountain spring.” Her tired face
lights up as she sits upright in bed to bid me farewell. “I am glad you came,”
she says. “On our own, we have no hope of healing anybody or fixing anything.
We can do this only by asking other living beings to help us heal… Some
highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 1,947

We stop by a sacred tree to tie
kyira, traditional white strips of cotton. Such trees can be seen around Altai
at mountain springs and mountain passes—strips of white, yellow, or light blue
cotton or light horsehair tied to tree branches to demonstrate reverence toward
Altai. Danil does this to ask the spirit of Altai to bless my journey and to look…
Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 1,952

I share my impressions from this
trip with Danil—glaciers melting, kurgans thawing, petroglyphs eroding,
scientists worrying, global heritage disappearing, and development accelerating.
And in the midst of it all, the Altai people trying to revive and hold on to
their traditions, territories, and sacred sites. “We cannot avoid our current
predicament,” Danil reflects. “Life unfolds according to its own laws, whether
we comprehend… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export
limits.Loc: 1,956

“Modern society,” he continues,
“may consider itself advanced in knowledge, but spiritually it’s quite
ignorant. To come up with any solutions to the ills of the modern age, we must
find a way to cast aside our prejudices and build on our collective knowledge,
whether it… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc:

According to the Altai worldview,
Uch-Enmek Mountain is sacred, but not just because it is a place to gather for
ceremonies and rituals. Local people believe that, like any other living being,
the living earth has tissues and organs that, when working properly, keep it
alive and healthy. In the Altai worldview, the sacred Karakol Valley is the
umbilicus mundi, or the earth’s navel. They believe that through this navel,
the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 1,966

valley nurtures and maintains the
relationship between people and the land locally, but also throughout Altai and
the rest of the world. “The Karakol Valley and Uch-Enmek Mountain are important
places that help keep our relationship with the earth and cosmos in balance,”
Danil explains. “I understand this now, not only through our traditional
teachings but also as a geologist. Here at Uch-Enmek, and throughout Altai, we
are trying to use modern technology and concepts to translate our traditional
understanding into the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to
export limits.Loc: 1,975

According to science, Earth’s
magnetosphere, shaped by the movement of its molten core as well as the makeup
of its crust, interacts with the energies of the sun and cosmos reaching our
planet, and influences cloud formation, thunderstorms, and other atmospheric
phenomena. Danil explains that Altai people have known of these relationships
for eons. Certain geological features around their traditional territory that
had strong magnetic properties they recognized as sacred natural sites. They built
artificial structures, such as burial mounds, or kurgans, out of magnetite-rich
rocks that often had to be brought in from a great distance. Loc: 1,979

his ancestors constructed these kurgans
to purposefully tap into, and amplify, the power of sacred landscapes. They
carried out ceremonies at these sites to direct the energies of these places
toward sustaining the well-being of Altai, its people, and all other living
beings. To investigate the properties of the Earth’s magnetic field around
kurgans in the valley, the Uch-Enmek Nature Park partnered with the Siberian
branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences Loc: 1,984

Measurements around intact and
dug-up kurgans showed that undisturbed kurgans maintained a strong, continuous
magnetic field, while it was broken up around the excavated kurgans. The
conventional explanation for some burial chambers being empty has been that
they were prepared ahead of time, in anticipation of a death of a nobleman or
-woman. Danil, however, is adamant that these structures are meant to be empty,
their rings of magnetite-rich rocks repeating the configuration of the larger
magnetite structure of the Karakol Valley, the umbilicus mundi. Loc: 1,988

one kurgan, researchers discovered
a small, highly dynamic magnetic field that was moving against the relatively
uniform magnetic background. The field was moving around the kurgan and
changing its behavior when people were present. The researchers also measured
changes in the strength of the kurgan’s magnetic field over time, discovering
that it was very sensitive to thunderstorms and lightning outside the park,
even as far as Mount Belukha, over a hundred miles from the Karakol Valley. Loc:

Kirlian photography—a special
method for capturing images of living objects in a magnetic field—researchers
also documented how the kurgans had a restorative effect on human bioenergy
fields. Disrupted electric conductivity of human skin became fully restored
after individuals spent time at a whole kurgan. There was also a noticeable
drop in blood pressure, indicating a calming effect of the place on a person.
“We don’t need this scientific lingo for our people,” says Danil. “We already
know these things about the kurgans based on our traditional knowledge. Loc: 2,002

Altai people learned long ago
about the energy flow in the human body. Disease, they learned, is a result of
an imbalance in that flow, which could be fixed by stimulating certain spots
along the energy meridians on human skin—acupuncture points. Altai people
believe that, in a similar way, the Earth also has acupuncture points. Their
ancestors recognized these places as sacred sites, which play exactly the same
role for the living Earth as acupuncture points do for human bodies. Altai
traditional rituals act on these sites in the same way Loc: 2,006

at the scale of the entire region
or even the planet. When sacred sites are well looked after and active, Danil
explains, the energy flows through the area, keeping Altai and the cosmos in
balance. If the kurgans are left undisturbed, says Danil, even if the
permafrost encasing the remains of Altai ancestors melts in some of them and
their remains return to earth, such sacred places, together with the shamans
who care for them, will continue to perform their millennia-old role of
safeguarding Altai and its people, maintaining the balance of human-environment
interaction. Loc: 2,012

A wiser and more practical
approach would be to work with us to help take care of the land in the way we
know is beneficial to our culture and our ancestral responsibilities of looking
after this land. It’s only through such collaborative and creative work between
scientists and local people that real solutions to modern challenges can
emerge. This is what we are trying to do in Uch-Enmek.” Loc: 2,018

On the way back to the car, I stop
by the sacred tree to tie a kyira. I ask the great Altai spirit to help Danil
and his people to look after their kurgans in the way they deem appropriate; I
ask for the Ukok Princess Ochy Bala to find her way back home to the Ukok Plateau;
and I wish for the Karakol Valley to remain the Earth’s navel, the place where
the boundaries between human, planetary, and cosmic realms no longer hinder our
vision and we can see our path with crystal clarity. Loc: 2,047

On the one hand, the Indigenous
Sápara people see their rainforest as a living and breathing conscious being
that must be cherished and cared for—the sacred Naku, who is a source of
precious life, and a foundation of their wellbeing. The Ecuadorian government
views the forest as a resource to be exploited in order to generate revenue.
The government’s view resonates with some of the settler communities in the
region that, for years, have been encroaching on the Sápara territory and
looking to cash in on resource extraction. Loc: 2,056

Sápara’s Naku lies at the western
edge of the Amazon rain forest, a globally recognized hot spot of biological
diversity. About eighty miles north of it is the Yasuní National Park and
Biosphere Reserve—arguably the most biologically rich place on earth. “Home to
an estimated million living species, most of them yet to be
identified,”—clarified and confirmed with Dr. Swing, the Yasuní National Park
in the Napo moist tropical forests ecoregion of northeastern Ecuador is
considered to be one of the best-known symbols of global biodiversity. Loc: 2,064

“The highest levels of biological
diversity are found along the equator, within one or two degrees latitude—a
seventy- to one-hundred-and-forty-mile-wide band,” Dr. Swing explained to me.
“The further away you move from the equator toward the poles, the fewer species
you encounter. Here, the intersection between the Andean uplands and the
Amazonian lowlands forms a transitional zone of overlap between both
latitudinal [north-south]

and altitudinal [up-down] gradients of biological diversity, creating an astounding abundance of distinct life-forms. In eastern Ecuador, both the Yasuní park and Sápara territories are within this band.” Loc: 2,073

consider that there are estimated six hundred species of birds in Yasuní, spread around an area approximately the size of New Hampshire State. In comparison, both the United States and Canada—with their combined area being six hundred and fifty times larger than the Yasuní territory—have a grand total of eight hundred bird species. The park is also home to about two hundred species of mammals, half of the total number in the entire United States and Canada, and includes ten different species of primates and five species of large cats—an unprecedented number of felids living alongside each other. Loc: 2,078

the United States and Canada, there are about twenty-five species of bats, while Yasuní has over a hundred. There are about four hundred species of fish and one hundred and fifty species of frogs, compared to eight hundred and ninety, respectively, in the United States and Canada combined. One hectare of Yasuní forest may contain up to six hundred species of trees and over one hundred thousand species of insects! Not individuals, but species! That’s as much as all of the species of insects in the United States and Canada combined! Obviously, microbial diversity is even more overwhelming. Loc: 2,082

the grand total exceeds a million species in this New Hampshire-sized park! This is what we call in conservation science a biodiversity hotspot.” Over the last two and a half centuries, scientists have described a total of about 1.5 million species on our planet. The best scientific estimate of the total number of species living on Earth is somewhere around 9 million species, most of these are yet to be found and described. “And over one-tenth of all possible species,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,088

a hundred years ago, it was the territory of a different Indigenous group, the Huaorani.” The Huaorani still occupy a large swath of rain forest cradled by the horseshoe-shaped Yasuní park, south of the Tiputini River, partially overlapping with the territories of the uncontacted Tagaeri and Taromenani tribes, who have been living in voluntary isolation to seclude… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,091

Indigenous peoples of the Amazon have proven to be the best guardians of their traditional territories, which they’ve managed for thousands of years, without destroying the biodiversity,” continues Dr. Swing. “The fact that the Amazon ecosystems are as rich as they are today is proof of how successful these cultures have been living in balance with their environment. Occupying one area for centuries, they coevolved with the land, the rivers… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,099

Though it is located near Yasuní, the Sápara territory is less known, despite suffering virtually none of the disturbances—roads, pipelines, and logging—besieging the Yasuní. Out of Ecuador’s seven Indigenous nationalities that have historically inhabited the Western Amazon, Sápara is one of the smallest in size. There are about two hundred Sápara remaining in Ecuador, and approximately the same number still… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,105

recent historical and archaeological research suggests that the contemporary small groups of Indigenous peoples are actually the remnants of large Indigenous communities that existed until the Spanish conquest of the 16th century, and which were decimated by the epidemics of measles, smallpox, and yellow fever, and other European “gifts.” Over the ensuing four hundred years, the surviving remnants of the original Indigenous cultures shifted territories, adopted simpler technologies… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,110

The first notes on Sápara date back to the 17th century, when missionaries and early explorers entered what later became known as the Pastaza province. Several early accounts describe a strong Sápara nation of twenty thousand to thirty thousand made up of more than two hundred peaceful tribes that differed in name but shared a common tongue. They lived in temporary settlements made up of a few malocas, or round leaf-roofed houses, surrounded by small chacras, or fields, cleared in the rain forest. They built dugout canoes, wove… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,117

According to their story of origin, Sápara are the children of Aritiaku, the red howler monkey. The very first Sápara, their ancient hero Tsitsano, was born of the union of the two Aritiaku that transformed into the first man and woman while traveling throughout the region. The Sápara oral history and rare historical records explain the collapse of the Sápara nation as a result of many factors, from wars with other tribes to missionization, from forced settlement… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,121

adopting different survival strategies—fleeing the persecution, adopting a new language, intermarriage—Sápara managed to withstand the plagues that besieged them. Even though there are no written records of the impact of the 1941 war between Ecuador and Peru, Sápara remember well how their relatives were attacked, harassed, robbed, their homes destroyed, and their women kidnapped and raped. The war ended in 1942, with the signing of the Protocol of Rio de Janeiro… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,126

In 1952, the evangelical missionaries of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a global US-based Christian nonprofit, arrived under the pretext of studying native tongues to translate the Bible into local languages. Their work meant to help missionaries transform Sápara from “wild heathens” into good Christians, and do the bidding of the government and oil… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,129

missions offered Indigenous peoples a seemingly secure life with all the necessities of civilization—health care, education, and a guaranteed passage to the promised land. All the Indigenous peoples needed to do was to stop being who they were—give up their freedom of movement throughout their territory, neglect their traditions, abandon their language, and forget their spirituality and connection with their land. All of these factors, combined with the elusive semi-nomadic lifestyle and inter-ethnic marriage… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,134

a few of them vehemently opposed the advances of the evangelical missions and acculturation. Though the dominant Kichwa language has largely replaced their native Sápara tongue—there are just a half-dozen fluent speakers remaining—the “true” Sápara, as they like to call themselves, have not relinquished their cultural identity, which for them is inseparable from rejecting Christianity, maintaining their spiritual beliefs, and taking care of their sacred Naku. A group of Sápara families led by a powerful… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,139

what will save us is our culture,” Blas Ushigua instructed his people, as these Sápara groups decided to stay away from the missions. They continued their seminomadic way of life of hunting, fishing, and gathering, called purina (literally “to walk around”), from one seasonal shelter, or tambo, to the next, throughout the Sápara territory, well into the 1980s. Eventually, however, the growing encroachment from settlers, missionaries,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,144

wanted the government to finally acknowledge that the Sápara were not extinct but still looked after their traditional territory—and they were determined to keep it that way. In 1992, the Ecuadorian government formally recognized 251,503 hectares of the Traditional Sápara Settlement Area, later adding more, for a total of 322,029 hectares—about 8 percent of their historical range along the Conambo River watershed. The 1990s linguistic work by Dr. Carlos… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,148

UNESCO’s recognition of the Sápara language as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” on May 18, 2001. Today, the Sápara territory has more non-Sápara families than Sápara. Established by the missionaries, Conambo is the largest village, with about three hundred inhabitants, most of them are descendants of various Indigenous groups of the Western Amazon—lowland Kichwas, Andoas, Cofáns, Achuar and Shuars, among others—whose traditional… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,152

just a quarter of the territory’s population, the “true” Sápara live in small communities of approximately thirty to forty people, mostly in the western corner of the Sápara territory. We are on our way to one of them, the village of Torimbo. AN AMAZON I first met Gloria Ushigua, coordinator of Ashiñwaka, the Association of Sápara Women, in New York City, at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues—a high-level… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,163

Land is Life’s intrepid director, Brian Kean. He had arranged my participation at the Permanent Forum and was now spending his days organizing training sessions, meetings, and press conferences for the Indigenous delegates his organization had brought to the UN. Land is Life was founded at the seminal Kari-Oca World Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Territory, Environment and Development, held in Brazil in the lead up to the historic UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where critical global agreements, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were adopted. Loc: 2,174

Land is Life has been helping Gloria for several years with a variety of issues important to Sápara, from demarcating their traditional territory to bringing Gloria to the UN to share her peoples’ story, to helping Sápara with a climate change adaptation work. Loc: 2,196

It is through the dreams that Sápara maintain their strong connection with the spiritual world—the realm of their ancestors, powerful spirits, and Piatsao, their creator. Dreams at night, or those induced through the use of hallucinogenic plants, such as ayahuasca or floripondio, help Sápara interact with other levels of reality in order to explore and better navigate their own world. Sápara say that they dream their way to the future, because their dreams are a way of experiencing, knowing, and interpreting the world around them. Loc: 2,200

aware of the dream world, and recalling and interpreting the dreams on waking, is second nature to Sápara, just as meditation is to Tibetan monks. For example, a man’s power, or paju, which defines the hunter’s success, depends not only on what his dream is about but also how his wife interprets it afterward. To have a successful hunt, one must dream, because without it, Sápara say, one might as well go fishing instead of hunting. Without the paju power, the hunter cannot use the blowgun properly, because he will be short of samai (breath). Loc: 2,204

“When I dream in my sleep,” Gloria explained, “I connect with all the spirits of the Naku. I don’t see mountains—I see human beings. In my dreams, a tree doesn’t look like it does in the waking world—with a trunk, branches, and leaves. It’s revealed to me as a person, just like you and I,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,209

the selva, the lowland Amazon rain forest, along the Conambo River, a distant tributary of the Amazon. Trekking through the jungle and paddling up and down the river were her fondest childhood memories. “We used to be many,” said Gloria. “But by 1970s, everybody—government, explorers, anthropologists—said that we no longer existed, gone extinct, finished. That didn’t really matter to us at the time, as long as we could still continue to live peacefully in our Naku. But, when the oil developers and settlers started to push into our territory, we had to… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,215

“The prospectors came in, dug holes along the river, and blew up explosives to see if there was any oil in the ground. This scared off our boas, who control the power of the jungle, because they are the owners of freshwater, and the water animals.” Brian explained to me that for Sápara, “owners” are animals, plants, or spirits that define and monitor the rules by which humans must behave toward these… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,218

“When the oil exploration companies finally left,” continued Gloria, “My father, Blas, a strong shimano, called the boas back. Then, the fishes returned. For many years since then, you’d hear only laughter in our village. We were quite content,” Gloria reminisced. “But now, the oil companies are trying to come back, once again, to get the oil from under our forest. We don’t laugh as much now. With the threat of oil and mineral… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,223

I come here to New York, to the UN, to tell the world that our sacred rain forest and our culture are in danger. We are fighting to protect our future… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,224

Sápara’s resolve to preserve the integrity of their sacred Naku in the face of formidable odds. “It has been scientifically demonstrated that Indigenous territories are key to maintaining the integrity of rainforests, conserving biodiversity, and [sustaining the] ecosystem services they depend on. These are important elements of the Indigenous peoples’ ability to cope with a changing climate. The best way to mitigate climate change is to strengthen Indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral territories, because,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,257

In 2007, Ecuador endorsed UNDRIP. In 2008, it developed a new constitution that recognized the collective rights of Indigenous peoples, their right to be consulted on development projects, as well as the rights of nature. Over the last few years, however, the cash-strapped government has been desperately pushing for oil development in the Amazon rain forest in order to pay off its considerable US $15.2 billion debt to the Chinese government. In doing so, it has turned a blind eye to the immediate and future impacts of these projects on Indigenous peoples and the rain forest, going against its own progressive pro-Indigenous and proenvironmental constitutional obligations. Loc: 2,280

The climate of the Ecuadorian Amazon, where Sápara live, is tropical—warm, humid, with a lot of rain. The temperature ranges from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, averaging 75 degrees Fahrenheit. About ninety-five inches of rain fall every year, and humidity is relatively stable at 88 percent. Though not as dramatic as the Arctic, the increase in the average annual temperature in the Amazon due to climate change has also been significant—about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last three decades. Loc: 2,284

average annual temperature in the Amazon is expected to increase by 3.6 to 5.4°F by 2050. (a couple degrees Celsius) This would lead to less rainfall during the dry season and widespread drying of the rain forest, turning it from a “carbon sink,” an area that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, into a source of carbon, which releases it. The frequency and intensity of forest fires is also predicted to eventually go up, transforming the Amazon from a tropical moist forest to a fire-driven savannah-like landscape covered with drought-tolerant vegetation and depleted of biodiversity. Loc: 2,288

Changes to rainfall and surrounding landscapes alter the flow of the Amazon River and its thousands of tributaries, which regularly pour over 15 percent of the total global freshwater into the Atlantic Ocean. Lately, the increasing floods, due to the erratic rainfall, have affected hundreds of thousands of people. In Sápara territory, increased floods created landslides that destroyed hunting areas,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,293

growing as well as before—they were getting smaller and their flesh was getting covered in black spots, like some sort of sickness,” Gloria says. “We thought about how we could fix it. Land is Life helped us get some funding to connect with a global climate change adaptation initiative, run by our Quechua neighbors in Peru.” Currently on hold because of a shortage of funds, the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment, or IPCCA, is a global partnership of several Indigenous communities from India, Thailand, Finland, the Philippines, and Panama… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,299

Association for Nature and Sustainable Livelihoods, or ANDES, an NGO created in the mid-1990s by Indigenous Quechua communities living near Cusco, Peru. They established and managed the mountainous Potato Park in order to protect more than six hundred traditional varieties… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,302

working to restore and exchange disease-free potato varieties between the Potato Park communities experiencing different effects of climate change. “Following the Potato Park example,” explains Gloria, “we brought together Sápara people from several communities to share different varieties of yuca plant to see which one was doing better under what conditions, and in combination with what other plants. We selected some that were still healthy and growing… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,314

as part of our climate change adaptation work with ANDES and Land is Life, we focused on our traditional medicines. We gathered some medicinal plants around the forest and planted them in medicinal gardens, so that we have them near our communities without having to wander all over Naku looking for them, especially when there was flooding,” Gloria concludes. A much more dependable strategy in the middle of the Amazon than relying on expensive western medications that have to be flown into the community. Loc: 2,320

“After we established the medicinal gardens, we began restoring our traditional trails to reconnect with as much of our territory as possible. The first trail we built was here in Torimbo,” he says, motioning into the darkness. He explains that, until about thirty years ago, Sápara maintained their traditional annual purina cycle of movement throughout their ancestral territory, traveling along an established network of trails cut and kept up throughout the rain forest. They moved between seasonal camps, where they would stay for weeks or even months at a time. Along the way, they hunted, fished, gathered wild fruit and medicinal plants. Loc: 2,325

Their cyclical movements throughout the territory were never random but were dictated by the seasonal availability and distribution of plants, fish, and game. Some resources could be tapped into throughout the year, like fishing for eels and piranha, but others were seasonal, such as fruits, turtle eggs, birds, and ants. Some fishing was also seasonal… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,329

The purina system enabled Sápara to have access to their entire territory, creating a mosaic of diverse resources of food and medicines that have helped Sápara to adapt to changes when some parts of their territory became unavailable because of heavy rains, droughts, or settler encroachment. “When we had unexpected flooding, or some other extreme weather event,” explains Juan Carlos, “we could always… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,333

As Sápara began settling into permanent hamlets—with schools, airstrips, radios, and other trappings of civilization—the purina system withered. Though some of its elements remained, like the hunting and fishing tambo we are going to visit tomorrow, the trail system largely disappeared, making it harder for Sápara to access different parts of their territory. Gloria described how some fruit trees and medicinal plants that used to be common along the traditional trails of her childhood could not be easily… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,339

Sápara decided to begin restoring some of the trails as part of their climate change adaptation project. “We felt really festive when we were cutting the trails and building the medicine gardens,” Gloria chimes in. “It was just us and Naku. We’d drink ayahuasca to talk to the plant and animal spirits, and commune with our ancestors. My brother, Manari, visited with our late shimano father, who told him that he was… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,344

“These days,” says Juan Carlos, “the trails are important not only for connecting our communities with fruit and medicinal gardens, hunting and fishing areas, but also for monitoring our territory to prevent intruders from harming our Naku.” One of the main concerns for Sápara is the oil development that is threatening their territory. They are convinced that the point of entry for the Andes Petroleum will be the old oil well, a day’s walk from Torimbo. To keep an eye on the site, they… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,364

after a military invasion by Peru in 1941, when Ecuador lost a significant portion of this territory. In response, Ecuadorian officials enacted a number of laws, including the Oriente Law, the Agrarian Reform and Colonization Law, and the Vacant Land and Colonization Law, in order to open up the region to farming and ranching. In 1967, new oil deposits were discovered in the northern part of the Oriente, and the government seized this opportunity to pry the region open. Building both the oil extraction infrastructure and roads to access it Loc: 2,368

The roads brought settlers from the Sierras, and other poor regions in the west of Ecuador, into the “unoccupied” Amazon rain forest that the government was parceling away for free. With few exceptions, the traditional territories of the area’s Indigenous peoples were treated as “vacant” and, therefore, available for settlement. To get a free parcel of land, a settler had to simply cut down at least half of the standing rain forest and transform the plot of “wilderness” into a “managed agricultural system. Loc: 2,372

the government, the Indigenous subsistence agriculture was too chaotic and unmanageable because it was based on a vast diversity of crops and swidden-style agriculture that included clearing and burning small patches of rain forest, growing crops for a couple of years, and then allowing the rain forest to come back. The state preferred a more structured system, where the rain forest was clear-cut and replaced… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,377

Sápara remember the devastating impacts of oil exploration on their land in the past. They also visited other Indigenous communities in northern Oriente, including the infamous Lago Agrio, where oil development had been gnawing away at the environment and local lives for decades. Here, an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay US $9.5 billion in compensation for a class-action lawsuit against the corporation for contaminating the water used by the local communities for fishing, bathing, and drinking. The… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,382

They also recognized that the damage from the oil being syphoned out of their territory would harm not just their communities but would be damaging to the rest of the world. “The more oil we pump and burn,” Gloria said to me then, “the more the climate changes. If we really want to stop climate change from getting worse, we must leave the oil where it belongs—in the ground. Not because we want to be paid for it, like our… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,386

off Correa’s first presidential victory, the Ecuadorian government proclaimed that it was ready to deliver on the progressive agenda highlighted in the new 2008 constitution—the first such legal document in the world to grant rights to nature and recognize the collective rights of Indigenous… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,390

Ecuador would “keep the oil in the ground,” by permanently abstaining from oil development in the southern portion of the Yasuní National Park known as Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini, or ITT. According to its proponents, the so-called Yasuní-ITT initiative would conserve biodiversity, protect the Indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation inside the park, and avoid the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, from oil production and consumption. To make it all work, Ecuador would need US $3.6 billion by… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,395

funds would be spent on renewable energy jobs and protecting biodiversity. But somehow the government’s appeal fell on deaf ears, failing to entice the international backers, mainly the rich northern developed countries, who could not quite see, despite their climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation rhetoric, what they would gain in return for their investment. It could have been Ecuador’s troubled… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,400

On the one hand, it was campaigning to “keep the oil in the ground,” but on the other, the oil production continued in other parts of Yasuní, and at the same time the government was auctioning off multiple new oil blocks in the Amazon rain forest south of the park, including the Sápara territory. Whatever the reasons, during the six-year incubation phase of the initiative, the Ecuadorian government managed to secure financial pledges for just US $336… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,407

According to Acción Ecológica, a respected environmental NGO in Ecuador, President Correa’s decision to open up Yasuní-ITT to oil development sacrificed the area’s incomparable biological and cultural diversity in exchange for a mere ten days of global oil supply that would release around four hundred million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to the emissions produced by 57 million cars driven for one year. At the end of 2016, the first oil began to flow from the ITT block inside the… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,412

at the end of 2012, the government launched the eleventh oil round for the area south of Yasuní, including Block 79 and Block 83 that cover more than 50 percent of the Sápara traditional territory, including the village of Torimbo. Though the government generated a lot of publicity around the eleventh oil round, only two companies, both already working in Ecuador, made initial offers… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,418

contract with the Chinese company was signed in January 2016, igniting new protests from Indigenous peoples throughout Ecuador. The day the contract was signed, Sápara people, in protest of the impending invasion of their territory and violation of their constitutional right of being consulted, organized multiple rallies, public protests, and press conferences. “We built the trail and the ‘peace camp’ by the old oil well for a very simple reason,” concludes Juan Carlos. “We need to make it… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,455

Sápara view their prey as human beings, with different spirit “owners” protecting different species. The amunkui, the hawk, is the owner of the boas, who are in turn the owners of river and lake animals. The amasanga is the owner of monkeys, but, more importantly, it rules over the entire rain forest, kitchen garden, and hunting activities. The sacred task of hunting an animal begins with the hunter asking the spirit owner to grant its permission, which could be negotiated with the use of special hunting amulets. Loc: 2,459

is the great spirit protector of the jungle, Piatsao, who always watches over the hunt and intervenes if the people are not following the rules. Many of their traditional stories teach Sápara to hunt with restraint and avoid overhunting. The lessons of the story of the first Sápara, the cultural hero Tsítsano, killing the last female turtle and dooming the turtle clan to extinction is used to teach children not to hunt female turtles. The central message of all such myths and stories is that hunting or fishing should be done only to provide for one’s family and community, never for amusement or profit. Loc: 2,488

son’s lifeless body back to Torimbo. For several days he tried to radio the town of Puyo for help, calling the police and the parish council, but no one responded to his calls. A couple of days later, when Alcides’s two other sons, Jonás and Jaime, went hunting near the village, they were chased through the forest and barely made it home alive. Jonás, the younger brother, was so terrified by the experience that he fainted as they were trying to escape. Jaime had to drag him through the forest all the way back home. The terrified boys were certain that it was Emerson’s killers who were after them. For days later, they would not leave the house. Loc: 2,501

before his son’s murder, he, Emerson, and a couple of other Sápara families from Torimbo traveled by boat to Conambo to attend a community assembly about oil development on their territory. The main speaker at the meeting was Basilio Mucushigua, the president of the NASAPE (La Nacionalidad Sápara de Pastaza del Ecuador), the local organization, recognized by the Ecuadorian government as a representative of Sápara’s interests. But NASAPE, says Alcides, is nothing more than a front that Mucushigua and his Conambo cronies use to their own advantage. “He is not even Sápara, but an Andoa who came to our territory many years ago,” Loc: 2,506

Mucushigua signs agreements with the government to sell natural resources, such as oil, from Sápara traditional territory in exchange for payments that are supposed to support the local people, but these funds never reach the Sápara communities. He signed the recent agreement for the oil development in Blocks 79 and 83 with the Ministry of Petroleum, without consultation with the Sápara people. Loc: 2,509

community meeting, Alcides stood up and declared that the village of Torimbo would never have anything to do with oil development, because they know it would destroy their rivers and their Naku, just as it had done in other parts of Ecuador, and just as they remember it did when the company drilled the first oil well on their territory in the 1980s. “Basilio and his thugs had their shotguns in full view. They told us that if we continue to interfere, we’ll be brushed aside one way or another, whether with shamans or shotguns. This is why I know what happened to my boy and who did it,” Alcides concludes Loc: 2,513

“After this,” Juan Carlos says, “we decided to replace NASAPE and create a Sápara-only organization that would represent our own interests and make decisions that are good for our people and Naku, without interference of Christianized Kichwas. We called it the Zápara Nationality of Ecuador, or NAZAE. We held an assembly among the true Sápara, and decided to elect our leaders from those who live by our traditional values, who see the forest as a living, breathing, and feeling being, full of spirit. The government, of course, doesn’t want to recognize us as legal representatives of our territory, Loc: 2,518

we reject their oil development plans. They keep working with Basilio. I was elected by our people to represent this part of our territory around my community of Torimbo. We elected Gloria’s brother, Bartolo Ushigua, as our president. With Gloria, he’s been leading our push against the oil development.” Loc: 2,526

Terra Mater, formerly Pachamama Alliance, which has been supporting the Sápara’s fight to stop extractive industry from returning to their territory, Loc: 2,527

“The Kichwas came to our country with my father’s permission,” explained Manari, sipping his cappuccino. “This is the only reason why they live on our territory. Their true intention, though, has always been to take over our land for their own benefit. They are now in bed with the government, signing contracts for the promise of money, whether it comes from oil or so-called conservation.” Manari recalled how, several years ago, without real consultation with the communities, Mucushigua signed a twenty-year contract with the government for a forest conservation program called Socio Bosque, or the Forest Partners Program. Loc: 2,532

intended to set aside a portion of the rain forest, in the Sápara territory, to reduce deforestation in exchange for cash payments made to the communities for not cutting down trees. This sounded good on paper and, according to Conservation International, a prominent international conservation NGO and the Socio Bosque’s architect, would deliver significant conservation gains. Manari explained, however, that Sápara territory has never been threatened with deforestation,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,537

forests in Pastaza are still largely undisturbed, free of commercial logging. Still, the agreement Mucushigua signed prohibited Sápara from using the forest in their traditional way within the Socio Bosque area. They were told that they would even have to return the funds already paid to them, if the government were to find out, from satellite images, that a small patch of their rain forest had been cleared. “There was no real consultation,” said Manari. “Basilio just threw together a token community meeting… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,542

nobody’s seen the promised thousands of dollars, besides Basilio and his people,” Manari fumed. “It’s got nothing to do with saving the forest. It’s all about the government controlling our territory. How can they talk about… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,545

Another mock “consultation” followed. Many Sápara couldn’t come, either because it was just too far away for them to travel to Conambo, or because when they found out about the meeting, it was too late to make it there. At the consultation, there were mostly people from the Christianized communities, with just a few “true” Sápara. “Nobody even asked us if we wanted oil development or not,” said Manari. “Basilio got up and simply told us that if we didn’t accept oil development, the military will come and the government would take the oil anyway. The government decided that this farce constituted a… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,554

The bureaucrat, according to Manari, laid it out plainly—because the Chinese company holds permits for the oil blocks 79 and 83 in lieu of the US $17.5 billion in Chinese loans to Ecuador, everything on and in these blocks now belongs to China. Essentially, the Sápara people must just keep quiet, while China takes whatever it needs to recoup its investment from the Sápara territory. If the oil is going to be insufficient to pay… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,558

even talked about taking our traditional medicines and timber,” Manari exclaimed in frustration, banging his hand on the table and rattling our empty coffee cups. “He said that they would take everything, even the soil, if they have to. If we become a problem for them, he said, they will buy some… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,562

“Well, I simply told him that if they enter our territory, they’ll encounter serious problems. The government, I said, can give you all sorts of permits, but it’s our forest, because we’ve lived here since time immemorial. Our history’s here. The spirits of our ancestors are here. Still, he didn’t seem to hear me,” Manari recalled, shaking his head incredulously. After a pause, he raised his index finger, with a… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,567

a powerful spirit for them, and how their dragon was awake now, and this is why their country is doing so well. Good, I thought to myself. Speaking of spirits, I said, what would happen if your dragon spirit was in danger? Would you get mad? At last, I saw that I was getting through to him. ‘If you extract oil from our land,’ I said, ‘You will disturb our spirits Tsamarow and Piatsao that look after us and our territory. And believe me, you wouldn’t want that.’” Tsamarow… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,571

the incorruptible Creator who always challenges Sápara by sending both good and bad things their way. He is the supreme spirit of the jungle and the air, the wind and birds, animals and the whole of nature. In ancient times he lived in this world with Sápara and gave them their language. “I described to the Chinese man the world within the earth, beneath the top layer of the soil. I told him that our spirits maintain the energy of the Blood of Pachamama—the crude… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,576

sacred spirits maintain this balance. ‘If you hurt our spirits,’ I said, ‘we’ll break your spirit and we’ll win. You won’t even realize it.’ The man stopped saying that Sápara should stay quiet. Instead, he promised to relay all this information to the oil company, so that they understood exactly what would happen if they begin oil extraction,” Manari concluded. “Meanwhile, we continue with our protests and press conferences. We are doing it for all the living beings of our Naku. They are part of nature, they can feel and think, and we,… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.Loc: 2,586

In 2012, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of the Sarayaku in the case of Sarayaku v. Ecuador for violating the Sarayaku people’s right to Free, Prior and Informed Consultation, as guaranteed by the Ecuadorian Constitution, when the government awarded an Argentinian oil company exploration rights to the Sarayaku territory without consulting the Indigenous community. The ruling ended a decade-long legal battle the Sarayaku had been fighting since the oil company was permitted to enter their traditional territory in the 1990s. Loc: 2,596

“Back in the 1990s, they used this kind of helicopter to bring explosives to our territory for seismic testing,” Franklin says. “Though we won in court all right, and even got an official government apology and some money, there’s still over a ton of explosives left on our territory that they refuse to take out. It’s a festering wound on our land—the mere presence of the explosives affects the entire forest! When they did the seismic tests, it was like they were destroying the spirit of our Pachamama. Loc: 2,610

mind, I hear Alcides’s words on our canoe trip down the Conambo River. “The government and the oil companies are trying to intimidate us,” he says. “But we are not scared. Without our sacred Naku, we cannot survive. We must keep it healthy, and no amount of money can do that. I am prepared to die protecting it, so that my grandchildren always know their Naku as well as we do. So that my boy’s blood wasn’t spilled in vain, and Pachamama’s blood is never spilled again.”