Centuries ago, the Cofán people moved down from the foothills of the Andes Mountains to inhabit a large territory between the Aguarico River in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon and the Guamués River in southern Colombia. It is estimated that the Cofán (also written as Kofán, or A’I as they refer to themselves), numbered between 15,000 and 20,000 people before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. A brutal history of conquest, abuse, and disease followed. The invasion of the extractive industry, colonization, and forced religious conversion took its toll on the Cofán, and they now number approximately 2,100 people living in a significantly reduced territory. Oil extraction has contaminated much of the Cofán’s lands and rivers, and oil-related health problems are prevalent in Cofán communities, particularly in Dureno, Duvuno, and Sinangüé y Chandía Na’en. The Cofán have been inspiring protagonists in the 20-year legal battle against Chevron, yet they continue to suffer from the devastating contamination in their communities, most significantly the lack of clean water.
The Secoya, or Siekopai, people traditionally inhabited a very large territory between the Putumayo and Napo rivers in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. They are renowned for their shamanic acumen and knowledge of medicinal plants. Their language, Pai’koka, is part of the Western Tucanoan language group. Missionary activity, rubber extraction, colonization, palm oil production, and petroleum activity have reduced Secoya territory to less than 30,000 hectares in Sucumbíos Province in Ecuador—a tiny fraction of their ancestral territory. The Secoya now number around 600 people in Ecuador and around 900 in Peru. In Ecuador, the Secoya are concentrated in three communities along the Aguarico River: San Pablo de Katetsiaya, Siecoya Remolino Ñe’ñena and Eno. The Secoya suffer heavily from oil-related contamination. Rivers have been contaminated, making much of the water unsafe to bathe in or drink. The Secoya can no longer subsist solely on traditional activities like hunting, fishing, and growing edible crops. As a result, African palm production and oil extraction have a strong influence in the communities, rapidly degrading the remaining portion of rainforest the Secoya call home.
The Siona people have often been paired with their Secoya relatives. Although formerly considered one ethnic group, the “Secoya-Siona,” the Siona and Secoya are increasingly affirming their independent identities. The Siona live in the territories of modern Colombia and Ecuador. In Ecuador, they are settled in the province of Sucumbios, in the cantons of Putumayo, and Shushufindi. Their population numbers approximately 400 people sparsely settled in several communities, including Puerto Bolivar, Sottosiaya, Bi’aña, Aboquehuira, and Orahuëaya, amongst others. Siona territory borders that of the Secoya people, with whom they share a common language and ancestry. Like the Secoya, the Siona currently suffer from the effects of oil contamination, African palm production, deforestation, and expanding colonist settlement in their territory.
The Waorani, who currently number around 2,000, once maintained one of the largest territories of all indigenous Amazonians in Ecuador, within the modern provinces of Orellana, Napo, and Pastaza. They traditionally lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers in small clan settlements. Missionary groups relocated many Waorani families into larger communities with the purpose of converting them to Christianity. The Waorani are the most recently contacted of all Ecuadorian indigenous peoples, first reached by an American missionary group in 1958. Since first contact, the Waorani have experienced a rapid and difficult insertion into modern society. Their territories have been greatly reduced, and their remaining lands impacted by logging, oil extraction, and colonist settlement, among other issues. Several Waorani groups have thus far rejected contact and continue to move ever deeper into the forest. Oil activity and the construction of oil roads have been severely detrimental to Waorani lands. Despite the location of several Waorani communities within Yasuní National Park, living downriver from oil operations has still drastically affected these communities and their water supply. And the Ecuadorian government has now announced plans to drill for oil in Yasuní, threatening even the Waorani living under the supposed protection offered by the National Park.