In 2022, Alexandra Narváez, the first female land patrol member of the Cofán Indigenous patrol, and Alex Lucitante, a founding patrol member and human rights defender, won the Goldman Environmental Prize for their work in protecting the Amazon and legal success against the mining industry. The Cofán community comprises about 200 people who reside in Sinangoe and rely upon the forest and rivers within their territories. In 2018, the Cofán established an Indigenous Patrol, called La Guardia, which used technology like GPS devices and drones from the Ceibo Alliance, an Indigenous operated Ecuadorian non-profit, to capture evidence of environmental damage from machines that were mining the Aguarico River. La Guardia discovered that the government permitted mining activity on their lands with no prior consultation or consent from the Cofán community. Some mining machinery contributed to pollutants like mercury and cyanide leaking into the water and soil. La Guardia brought the case to court and with the help of Amazon Frontlines, an NGO that specializes in Indigenous legal defense, were able to successfully win their court case. The case ruling now requires that the Ecuadorian government consults with the Indigenous community before any mining project can take place on or close to their territory. The ruling also halted 52 gold-mining projects and protects about 32,000 hectares of land. Ecuador’s Constitutional Court reinforced this decision in 2022, affirming that Indigenous communities must give consent to oil drilling, mining, or any other extractive projects that impact their lands. With this success, Lucitante and Narváez hope to inspire other Indigenous communities to confront the mining industry.
Photo Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize