Growing up in an Indigenous community in the Amazon, Helena Gualinga witnessed the importance of environmental advocacy firsthand.
Saryaku, the small community in Ecuador where Gualinga was raised, has been the site of a decades-long legal battle between native residents and the government, which has aimed to help oil companies extract dirty energy from the region.
After a victory in an international court gave Saryaku the right to be consulted about any plan involving its land, the small community has become a leader among Indigenous communities pushing for the same power. Many of Gualinga’s relatives have also participated in this movement, protesting and participating in documentaries about the struggle.
Gualinga and her community stand up against oil companies not only to protect their home but also to protect what remains of the Amazon rainforest.
“We have this really close relationship to nature,” Gualinga told WBUR. “And we live by nature and we live with nature. And that’s something that is very important to us.”
Gualinga has pushed for more Indigenous voices at international climate events, calling out governments like Ecuador’s for making “beautiful speeches” about the topic while simultaneously turning their land over to developers.
Preserving the Amazon and other natural environments will make a huge difference to the climate worldwide.
The Amazon has been called “the lungs of the planet” because its many trees help absorb the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It also helps move water into the atmosphere, contributing to rainfall in distant regions, and holds 10% of the world’s known wildlife species. Destroying the Amazon would cause incredible damage to the Earth’s environment, even in distant countries.
To prevent this, Gualinga has demonstrated at events like the 25th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2019. She is also one of the co-founders of Polluters Out, an international movement to end the activities of oil and coal companies.
“We are attempting to bridge together scientists and activists and Indigenous people to kick fossil fuel out once and for all,” the organization’s website states.