In the Kofán community of Avie, on the border of Ecuador and Colombia in Ecuadorian territory, eight Indigenous families dedicate their lives to protecting their ancestral territory. Alex Lucitante grew up in this environment, with the Amazon as his backyard, and took his experience and values to support the neighboring Kofán community of Sinangoe in their struggle to protect their territory, which led to a historic victory for Indigenous rights before Ecuador’s Constitutional Court.
The territory surrounding Lucitante’s community is full of life. A biodiversity hotspot, this region of the Amazon is rich with a variety of plant species and animals. Coming from a family of ancestral medicine practitioners, Lucitante’s relatives use the surrounding vegetation in traditional medicines.
“The territory is a sacred legacy to us and the only form we Indigenous people can live.”
However, this region suffers many threats from outside invaders like oil, mining, and logging companies arriving to extort resources from the land. More than 25 years ago, Lucitante’s father began a push to protect the Kofán territory as important areas of their ancestral land were being portioned off for logging.
He initially found support in the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, which declared the region a protected area, the Cofan-Bermejo Ecological Reserve. Yet, intruders continued to destroy and deforest surrounding areas despite this effort, chipping away slowly at the edges.
To further aid in its protection, Lucitante’s brother began working as a land patrol, walking the land for signs of trespassers. At twelve years old, Lucitante wanted to join the fight but had school instead.
Typically, Lucitante had to take a canoe to get to class, but every so often, he would be forced to walk by the river, and it was here he began to appreciate his homeland. He learned to hunt, fish, and find the medicines taught to him by his grandparents.
As Lucitante grew, he saw many political leaders claiming to work for his community and the environment come and go but never stick around for long or do any real work for his people. He felt called to do the work himself and became an employee of the Ministry of the Environment. Through this position, Lucitante became aware of environmental legislation and how injustices were being perpetrated by the government against his homeland.
Soon after, Lucitante began working with the Ceibo Alliance, a coalition between members of four Indigenous nationalities in the Amazon, the Kofán, Siekopai, Waorani, and Siona. Forged within the context of repression and marginalization of Indigenous peoples and the exploitation of their lands by industries and the State, the Ceibo Alliance helps coordinate a unified movement for territorial and cultural protection among diverse communities of these four Indigenous nations.
Through Ceibo Alliance, Lucitante served as a coordinator working with the Kofán community of Sinangoe. Rampant gold mining was devastating a critical watershed bordering Sinangoe’s territory through 52 concessions illegally granted by the Ecuadorian government without Sinangoe’s consent. Alex worked alongside Sinangoe’s land patrol and community leaders to gather a robust body of evidence of this violation of their rights to present before the Ecuadorian government.
“I accepted being in that role with all my heart, helping with whatever they needed. It was a job that required consistency, and without that consistency, perhaps this victory would not have happened.”
Initially, there was no response from the Ministry of the Environment, mayors, or government offices. The community decided to take the government to court.
With perseverance from Kofán leaders like Lucitante and Alexandra Narvaez, and the entire Sinangoe community, on October 22nd, 2018, in a win for Indigenous peoples everywhere, 52 mining concessions were nullified due to the violation of the ancestral owners’ right to consent.
“It is an outcome that was beautiful, filling us with inspiration. It gives us pride to be part of this fight. It is a huge machete that Indigenous communities can utilize to protect their territory.”
The case set a precedent nationally that extractive projects must consult Indigenous communities beforehand, and once those communities make a decision, it will be respected. It helped set the stage for the April 2019 court ruling, which favored Nemonte Nenquimo and the Waorani, protecting the 500,000 acres of the Amazon from oil extraction.
Recognizing the significance of this victory, Lucitante and leaders from Sinangoe worked with partner organizations Amazon Frontlines and Ceibo Alliance to bring their case before Ecuador's Constitutional Court. After several years of community organizing and litigation, including holding the first-ever Constitutional Court hearing in Indigenous territory, on February 4th, 2022, the Court ruled in favor of Sinangoe, establishing Ecuador's first law guaranteeing the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, a powerful tool in the Indigenous-led protection of the Amazon rainforest.
Today, Lucitante and Sinangoe are fighting to ensure compliance with this historic ruling and working to gain legal title to 63,000 hectares (over 155,500 acres) of their ancestral territory. If the Kofán people are able to advance and uphold their rights and reclaim ownership over their lands, Lucitante believes they will always remain defenders of the Amazon.Support Indigenous-led Conservation