Interview with Workshop Delegate

Last week, Alianza Arkana partnered with the indigenous federation, FECONADIP, to conduct a workshop on indigenous rights and oil activities with seven Ashaninka communities along the Sheshea River in the Iparia district of the Ucayali region. Oil company, Petrominerales, has already entered the area and begun exploration activities. Because Sheshea is so far from the city of Pucallpa (a day and a half journey by speed boat), this was the first workshop they had ever participated in, and they learned quite a lot about their rights and next steps in dealing with Petrominerales.

As a follow-up to this meeting, Alianza Arkana sponsored a delegate from the workshop, Edgar Castillo Rodríguez, elected by community participants, to take part in an additional course on megaprojects and their impacts on Indigenous communities that took place in Pucallpa on the 8th and 9th April. The course was sponsored by Earth Rights International and FECONAU. Edgar has now returned to his community, and will be sharing course material with the seven other Ashaninka communities in the Sheshea River Basin. Before he left, Alianza Arkana interviewed Edgar about the effectiveness of the course.

Alianza Arkana: Edgar, what have you learned from the workshop?

Edgar: I´ve learned about a great deal of interesting things, for example about our rights as indigenous communities, such as our right to territory. An especially interesting thing for me was to come to understand what territory is and its relationship to our culture, flora and fauna. In this way, we need to take care of it. Additionally, I learned that having the legal title to property is very important.

I also deepened my knowledge about oil, mining and timber businesses and how they go about their business. Their activities often cause problems for people due to contamination, and they also cut down trees that for us are sacred, like Copaiba.

Thanks to Alianza Arkana and the organizers of the event, it´s not too late to change how we operate with these companies because most communities have not committed themselves indefinitely to working with timber and oil businesses that operate in the area.

Alianza Arkana: What knowledge have you gained that you can use to help your community?

Edgar: Well, an important part of the workshop was on community based organization, for example there should not be any internal conflicts or conflicts between communities. It is important to be organized and unified. It’s also paramount that each has a legal representative and that their documents are up to date.

Conducting this course has given me an idea, I want to organise mini-replications in each of the communities in my home-area Sheshea basin. I could travel to these communities and explain the most important parts of the course to them in our own language, Ashaninka.

Something else I leaned was how to write a report, for example identifying problems in the community and listing objectives of a project. This will be important for us in order to be able to improve the situation in our communities.

Alianza Arkana: Why do you think these things you have learned about are important?

Edgar: Firstly, we need to know our rights and responsibilities as indigenous people in order to be able to defend ourselves from external threats. I also consider it really important to inform others in the communities of Sheshea about this, so they understand the legal situation. This is a path towards not making big mistakes like damaging our families and communities if we allow natural resources to be destroyed and pollution to occur.

Deborah Rivett, Thursday, 11 April 2013