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Issue #1714      December 9, 2015

Culture & Life

A message to the world from the Wampis

The first email ever sent from the Wampis community of Soledad in the Peruvian rainforest was to New Internationalist, just last week. They want to tell the world their inspiring story: they have legally established a form of self-governance that will help them to defend their lands from mining, drilling and logging companies. Andres Noningo Sesen explains.


My name is Andres Noningo Sesen, I live in Puerto Galilea, a community in the Northern Peruvian Amazon. We are Wampis, one of the first peoples. Our ancestral lands cover over 1.3 million hectares of forest in the river basins of the Kanus (River Santiago) and Kanken (River Morona). We Wampis are a forest people; traditionally we lived in small groups, dispersed in the forest, hunting, fishing and gathering. It’s only recently that we have settled in large communities.

Wampis delegates at historic summit to form their autonomous government.

Today we hear a lot about this concept of protected areas and parks to conserve the forest but for us, our relationship with the natural world is very different. It goes far beyond conservation. For us, we have a deep faith that the natural world will provide for all our needs as our ancestors have thought deeply about the world around them. They noticed that the animals speak and even the earth moves and they asked where do these animals come from? What is the origin of the air we breathe, who looks after the trees? What is the origin of life? These are some of the questions they asked. To get answers our visionaries would spend up to three months in a forest in a small hut to seek wisdom.

They learnt that the plants we now cultivate in our farms were brought to us by Nunqui, the mother of the earth and the fish were given to us by Tsunkui, the people of the water. They taught us that every animal and tree are people just like us and have their guardians which protect them. This is why our ancestors were able to teach us where the animals live, where they reproduce, which lands are fertile and which are unproductive, where we should make a farm and how to hunt with respect, using our anent, sacred songs that ensure we treat all living beings with dignity.

We lived in harmony, at peace but soon the threats around us began to grow. Rubber tappers and loggers moved in and they took advantage of us because we didn’t speak Spanish. When the news arrived that we were going to be able to learn how to read and write we decided to form communities around these schools. And this is what has broken our relationship with the forest.

Over the next few days, and after many years of struggle, we are finally bringing to life our own vision for our future. While world leaders are meeting in Paris to discuss the future of the planet, almost three hundred of us have gathered here in the community of Soledad for an historic summit of the Wampis people. The birth of our own autonomous government to govern our territory. One territory and one government for one people.

We will still be Peruvian citizens but now we will have our own government responsible for our own territory. This will allow us to defend our forests from the threats of logging, mining, oil and gas and mega dams. As every year goes by these threats grow bigger.

This unity will bring us the political strength we need to explain our vision to the world and to the governments and companies who only see the gold and oil in our rivers and forests. For them, too often we are like a small insect who they want to squash. Any activity planned in our territory that will affect us will now have to be decided by our own government which represents all our communities.

This is the result of many years of struggle of our own organisations. This struggle has resulted in the land titling of many of our communities but has left large swathes of our land with no legal recognition or classified as protected areas. We have now made our own maps of our territory to show our historical occupation and reclaim our lands, we have commissioned our own anthropological, biological and legal studies to reinforce this and we have held many assemblies to write and approve our own laws to govern our territory.

And now we have a message for those people and governments meeting in Paris for the COP21. Our future as a people and humanity will not be guaranteed by transnational corporations who are only interested in the riches in the lands of peoples like the Wampis.

The heat that increases each year in the world is not created by the people of the forest but by these corporations and those who control the money in our world. Their homes are built on money and exploitation. Our home is the forest and if we look after it, it is our homes that will safeguard our food security, our access to clean air and clean water. Our new government will help us implement our own vision for a clean and healthy future enabling us to protect our forest for us, our future generations and all humanity.

Thank you.

New Internationalist

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