In addition to the important work of advocating for land conservation and securing important policy protections, the Cofan also do the necessary work of patrolling their territory to make sure the treaties are protected, which isn't easy! In April a group of 60 Cofanes divided into 5 groups and traveled on foot and by car and canoe over 55 kilometers to get to a 75-kilometer swath of river and trails by the Gueppi river on the Northern border near Peru. The preparation that goes into this type of expedition takes months and involves getting the paperwork for the canoes renewed, obtaining permits to buy gasoline, and repairing canoes. After a few nights of camping in neighboring communities and fishing for food, the group arrived at the placid and narrow Gueppi river. The water is a deep reddish brown, humic acids coming out of the huge mauriti swamps along the river stain the water, and at the same time, purify it. The group stops a few bends up the river to mix up banana and yucca drinks and “drink their breakfast” before continuing the voyage. The canoes drive slowly up the river as the person in front, armed with a chainsaw and machete clears trees and vegetation that have fallen over in storms. The people in the middle of the canoe are also hacking at vegetation with their machetes while the driver is maneuvering around the underwater obstacles. Fire ants and thorns are a constant nuisance, but the group is rewarded with friendly wildlife as well: macaws, pink dolphins, saki monkeys; fish jump, and howler monkeys roar in the distance in response to their outboard motors. They spend a week clearing trails and taking GPS points of key wildlife and landmarks. There are broken motors, mosquitos and torn muscles, but there are also nights under the stars, storytelling, and a wild boar hunt. The Cofan are important guardians of the Amazon forest and they continue to appreciate the support they receive from Global Giving to fund their conservation work.
On January 16th, 2019 the Cofan nation in Ecuador signed a landmark deal to conserve 137,000 hectares in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. This legislation is the culmination of decades of work largely by the lawyer who works with the Cofan and the Cofan leadership to solidify and expand previous agreements. In 1992 the Cofan signed a historic agreement with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Agriculture, which was the first to recognize the ancestral rights of an indigenous group and gave them possession of 80,000 hectares of the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve. Subsequent treaties with other indigenous groups only awarded 10-year leases to protect park land, which makes them vulnerable to mining concessions. Over the years the Cofanes have been pressured to give up some of the "possession" language in the original treaty in exchange for control over more land. The steadfast leadership combined with dogged legal support helped the Cofan navigate changing governments and ministries and to update the original agreement on more solid legal footing, as well as increase their legal area to include the Guepii reserve, which they have been managing for years. Now it is more important than ever to raise funds for the park guard program to sustainably protect this territory.
On January 1st, 2019, the Cofan Territory of Zabalo will be designated the first International Quiet Park by the newly formed Quiet Parks International organization. The Quiet Parks initiative is similar to Dark Sky Parks, which recognizes places with no light pollution. As human noises have increasingly contaminated our spaces, Zabalo offers a respite with "exceedlingly long average noise-free intervals combined with diverse bioacoustic activity." It is true that a few days in Zabalo feels like resetting one's senses so they are more intuned with the natural world. This is only possible with the innovative Park Guards program, partly supported by Global Giving. In order to provide long term support to the salaries of Cofan park guards, recurring donations are greatly appreciated.
The Cofan Survival Fund was able to contribute significantly to the new Ley Amazonica that was passed in Ecuador in May. It is not as strong as we had originally hoped, but we were able to keep many concepts- chief among them prohibitions against expansion of the agricultural and urban frontier and a commitment to sustainable resource management- that create a legal body that is a first in the world for actually recognizing the importance of environmental services at a regional level. Several times the concept of Ecuador's Amazon's environmental services to both the country and the world as the priority for the region is repeated and emphasized. Now comes the development of the mechanisms including the creation of local entities that will supervise the norms. Currently there is some indigenous representation in these spaces, but we hope to increase it.
Recently, the problem of gold mining in Cofan territory has received international media attention. The Guardian recently published an article on the threat posed by mining in the Cofan community of Sinangoe, which lies far up the Aguarico River in the Andean foothills. For more than four centuries, nonindigenous people have invaded Cofan land in search of gold and other minerals. The confrontation in Sinangoe is just the most recent example of how outsiders seek to profit from Cofan territory and end up destroying its forests and rivers while imperiling the health of its indigenous inhabitants. For the past two decades, the CofanSurvivalFund has been instrumental in confronting miners and working to expel them from Cofan territory. Many Sinangoe residents learned how to protect their territory during their time in the Cofan Park Guard Program. Your continued donations to this program helps Cofanes working in the nearby community of La Sofia to mobilize its residents to oppose the mining companies that threaten to pollute their rivers with mercury. With your help, the CSF can once again send groups of Cofan rangers throughout the Cofan homeland to confront miners as well as settlers, loggers, and commercial hunters. It all takes money, though—please consider renewing or increasing your donation to CSF today!
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