A delegation of roughly 150 members of an indigenous community in Ecuador’s Amazon region on Tuesday demanded the National Court of Justice (CNJ) uphold a lower-court ruling ordering the eviction of loggers from their ancestral lands.
The protesting representatives of the Siekopai nation were referring to a 2018 decision by the Provincial Court of Sucumbios, which ordered the removal of people who had encroached on 191 hectares (471 acres) of that community’s territory.
That ruling specifically referred to the Kokaya area of the Shushufindi canton, located in the remote northeastern province of Sucumbios not far from the Colombian border.
“This is an invasion of an ancestral territory of the Siekopai nation. We demand justice. We’re being discriminated against and want the settlers removed,” the president of that indigenous nation, Elias Piaguaje, said.
The Siekopai acquired collective title to those lands through a series of processes between 1986 and 1991, he said, though adding that outsiders have firmly established themselves there on the grounds that the CNJ has not handed down a definitive ruling.
“On top of that, they come to clear forests,” Piaguaje said.
The Siekopai began launching legal proceedings to expel outsiders from their lands 14 years ago and say their patience with Ecuador’s highest tribunal has run out.
“We’ve come to the National Court so they expel (the invaders), so they take action and the national judiciary looks out for the most vulnerable,” the Siekopai president said.
That nation’s territories chief, Justino Piaguaje, said the high court’s silence after two lower-court rulings in favor of the Siekopai has sparked concern among the community, adding that their “sources of life, food, wisdom … are being looted by people who shouldn’t be there.”
“We have all the documents in order, but even so our territories are not being respected. We’re not asking for a favor, but for them to study who’s right in accordance with the law,” he said.
For her part, the vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), Zenaida Yasacama, demanded “respect” for native communities and an “immediate resolution by the National Court.”
“It’s unacceptable that the rights of people and nationalities (set forth) in (Ecuador’s) constitution are being violated,” she said.
The Siekopai nation also issued a bulletin stating that the “lack of timely and expeditious action to guarantee our rights has led to more invaders continually entering our territories, doing away with our forests, our food sources and our ancestral practices.”
Ecuador’s Environment Ministry recently assessed the impact of logging activity on Siekopai territory over the past several years and found that a total of 86.46 hectares of land have been deforested.
One of Ecuador’s 14 indigenous nationalities and 18 indigenous peoples, the 723-strong Siekopai say their existence as a culture depends on having control over their territory, “where the spirits of the forest, the trees, the animals also dwell.”
Credit: La Prensa Latina