July 27, 2020
Sinangoe is a small community formed by up to 200 A’l Cofan people, who live in the north of the Ecuadorian Amazon. In 2017, Asentamiento Ancentral Cofan de Sinangoe (The Ancestral Township of Cofan in Sinangoe) decided to form the Community Guards, a group dedicated to monitoring 50,000 hectares of their ancestral territory and identifying outsiders mining gold, deforesting, killing animals, and poisoning rivers.
The Sinangoe community, with the support of the Ceibo Alliance, have uncovered the granting of 20 mining concessions and 32 more pending concessions in the headwaters of the Aguarico River. In 2018, they won a case that “recognized their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent” regarding activities that impact their access to natural resources in their territory. To this day, the Cofan people have continued watch and organize their community to prevent further mining on their lands.
In 2019, Cultural Survival joined the Sinangoe community in protecting their land through a Keepers of the Earth grant which enabled the A’l Cofan Guard to amplify and enforce their Indigenous sovereignty over their lands. The people of Cofan achieved their goal of buying a drone to aid in the monitoring of invaders conducting mining, hunting, and logging activities. After using the drone, they found that miners had entered their territory.
Through KOEF support, the A’l Cofan people organized with other Amazonian communities and collectively trained to spot and use the new drone technologies they acquired. Over the multiple-day training, 103 participants from Cofan, Siona, Waorani, and Secoya communities in the Amazon learned how to use the drone, identify illegal mining, and shared and discussed why protecting their territory is of utmost importance for their cultural survival.
The Sinangoe community was also able to purchase a motor for a canoe made by community members. The self-organized Land Guard from Sinangoe, made up of members from Cofan and five other Indigenous Amazon communities, will use the canoe to better patrol the boundaries of their territories that run through the Aguarico River.
The president of the community stated: "Our territory has a connection with us spiritually and that is why we defend it and with much more help we will not stop continuing to defend our territory, thanks to you, great support that has come directly to the community."
In the Spring of 2020, Ecuador was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic. While the virus was spreading through the country, the rainy season caused the suspension bridge that connected the community to the cities to collapse, and their canoe, the main way of land monitoring, was carried away by the river. A Keepers of the Earth Fund COVID-19 emergency response grant is helping the Sinangoe community to get food and basic medicine to keep isolated, as well as fuel for their newly carved canoe to transport their goods.
The protection of the Amazon requires proactive approaches from various actors including national, regional/state, and local actors. The Cofan people will not stand idly by as their ways of life are placed in jeopardy by extraction practices. Nixon Andy Narváez, treasurer for Asentamiento Ancestral Cofani Sinangoe, said it best: “The vision of the Cofan community of Sinangoe and the community patrol is to maintain our territorial integrity for future generations, where our sons and daughters can live with the Amazon jungle... and transfer generational knowledge where we protect nature and live in a world in tune with balance like our ancestors taught us.”