2020 Goldman Prize Winners

Nemonte Nenquimo led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.

The last time we mentioned a Goldman Prize winner was also the only time we have done so. What explains that? Nothing, really. Just a missed opportunity each year to celebrate things we care about. Today we share the news on one of the six prize winners for 2020:

Guardians of the Amazon Rainforest

Despite its relatively small area, Ecuador is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on Earth. It contains pristine Amazon rainforests with rich wildlife, complex ecosystems, and significant populations of indigenous communities. Long protectors of this territory, the Waorani people are traditional hunter-gatherers organized into small clan settlements. They are among the most recently contacted peoples—reached in 1958 by American missionaries—and number around 5,000 today. Waorani territory overlaps with Yasuni National Park, which, according to the Smithsonian, “may have more species of life than anywhere else in the world.”

Since the 1960s, oil exploration, logging, and road building have had a disastrous impact on Ecuador’s primary rainforests, which now cover less than 15% of the country’s land mass. Extractive industries have increasingly driven deforestation, human rights abuses, public health crises (including spikes in rates of cancer, birth defects, and miscarriages), and negative impacts on indigenous peoples’ territories and cultures. For decades, oil companies have dumped waste into local rivers and contaminated land, while displacing indigenous people from their land.

Today, 80% of the Waorani population currently lives on one-tenth of its original ancestral lands.

Read more about this year’s winners here.

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