An Alliance of Equals | Sojourners

An Alliance of Equals

Indigenous leaders in the Amazon are finally gaining the respect they deserve.

Indigenous people have lived in the tropical rain forests of South America's Amazon basin region for millennia. And while their way of life has been threatened by outsiders (including Christian missionaries) for centuries, it is only in the last few decades that they have faced the threat of extinction due to development—i. e. gold prospectors, dams, cattle ranchers, oil wells, and lumber companies.

Saving the forests has become a popular cause in recent years, with presidents, kings, religious leaders, corporations, scientists, and environmentalists discussing their fate. But in all of the discussions on topics such as global warming and the genetic diversity of the rain forest, one group has been conspicuously absent: the 1.5 million people who live there.

As part of an effort to place themselves at the bargaining table for their survival, indigenous leaders from Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador—who are part of a coordinating body of indigenous organizations known as COICA—hosted environmentalists in May for what was called the First Iquitos Summit, held in Iquitos, Peru.

The environmental groups participating at the five-day meeting included the National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, Rainforest Action Network, Conservation International, and Greenpeace. Many other groups, including the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Cultural Survival, and the Washington, D. C. -based Inter-American Foundation, were also present as observers.

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