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Nemonte Nenquimo: Amazonian Environmental Hero

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Nemonte Nenquimo is an Indigenous Waorani woman and champion of the environment. She was named as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, one of the first Amazonians ever to be featured on the list and the only Indigenous woman nominated that year. In the same year, Ms. Nenquimo also appeared on the BBC 100 Women 2020 list, was given the Goldman Environmental Prize, and was honored with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s “Champions of the Earth” award for Inspiration and Action.

Oil companies have released waste into the Ecuadorian waterways and polluted the land, causing Indigenous Peoples to be displaced. Witnessing such devastating effects from the oil companies’ activities, Ms. Nenquimo has dedicated her life to defending her ancestral land, ecosystem, culture, and way of life. The same year, Ecuador decided to hold an auction for oil extraction rights spread over 2.8 million hectares of primary Amazon forest. Ms. Nenquimo, serving as the plaintiff, co-filed a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government for violating the Waorani’s right to free, prior, and informed consent as it did not seek permission to auction the oil rights of their land. In April 2019, the judges ruled in favor of the Waorani people.

Indigenous Peoples own or manage one-quarter of the world’s land, and their land rights should be respected and recognized. The oil projects in the Amazon not only threaten the lives of Indigenous Peoples but also destroy wildlife, biodiversity, and thousands of unique plants in “the lungs of the Earth.” Ms. Nenquimo asks the world to stand with native inhabitants to defend their rainforest from oil drilling. “If we don’t do that, life will be cut short for future generations. There will be no more trees, clean water, or air left. We, the Indigenous People who live connected to the forests, will disappear first, and then the planet as well.”

Ms. Nenquimo also helped her people stay away from oil company subsidies by installing a rainwater harvesting system and solar panels. Similarly, she has supported women-led organic cacao and chocolate businesses to help the Waorani maintain independence from the oil industry.

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