Chinese Oil Interests Force Closure Of Indigenous Tribe’s Award-Winning Ecolodge

Huaorani EcoLodge lies deep within the Ecuadorian Amazon in Yasuni National Park. It’s owned and run by the Huaorani (also known as Waudani) people and its sustainability and cultural practices have won it a National Geographic World Legacy Award. The lodge was opened in August, 2007 in an effort to provide an income for the tribe, sustain and share their culture and protect the rain forest. It was a life changing experience to travel there with my son in 2010.

The only way in for visiting tourists is by boat along the Curaray and Napo Rivers or a small 4-seater plane that lands on a narrow grass landing strip in the isolated community of Quehueri’ono where you are taken by dugout canoe to the lodge. Either way you see both pristine rain forest and the wasteland wrought by global oil and timber companies – swaths of polluted land and rivers, the smell and noise of oil drills and hear the silence because the rain forest fauna have died off or left.

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You need permission to visit as you are entering the protected reserve (the largest in Ecuador) of 4000 indigenous people who have been fighting the encroachment of modern life and ongoing destruction of their land.

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Despite years of lobbying by Hauorani leader, Moi Enomenga, in front of Ecuadorian and international organizations; despite the Hauorani having been awarded legal title to Yasuni National Park and despite its status as a UN Biosphere Reserve, their land continues to be impacted by the environmental destruction of global oil and timber interests.

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Today I learned that Huaorani EcoLodge has been forced to suspend operations because of nearby seismic exploration by a Chinese oil company. The Huaorani have asked to negotiate with Ecuadorian authorities to minimize the damage to the lodge and the business that provides income to the tribe. There has been no response and so they’re working with partners resorting to that most modern medium of appeal – a Change.org petition.

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I was forever changed after leaving the Ecuadorian Amazon. I wonder every time I’m at a gas pump (which is far less these days) what was destroyed so that I might have the convenience of driving? I wonder how much longer the indigenous protectors of the rain forests worldwide can continue to be the front line in a battle to save themselves and an invaluable ecosystem? I wonder if I will be able to fulfill the vow I made when saying goodbye on that air landing strip of grass in Quehueri’ono- that I would return again to Huaorani EcoLodge?

 

 

 

Vancouver, Canada: Indigenous Tourism

It began with my search engine attempt to find reasonably priced accommodations in downtown Vancouver, Canada over the U.S. Thanksgiving Day weekend. An intriguing name rose to the top of the search engine feed: Skwachays Lodge: Aboriginal Hotel and Gallery. Hmmm. Located on West Pender Street across the street from Vancouver’s Millenium Gate entrance to Chinatown, the hotel was not only reasonably priced but within walking distance of almost everything we wanted to see. Owned and operated by the Vancouver Native Housing Society, the hotel had the added attraction of not only a fair trade gallery of art by First Nation artists, but each room was decorated by a team of Native artists and interior designers with unique indigenous art. Finding Skwachays Lodge inspired a theme for the weekend’s trip- what other Native owned businesses could we support while in Vancouver?

Skwachays Lodge is the first Native owned urban hotel in Canada and had just celebrated its one year anniversary when we were there in November, 2015. Originally the Vancouver Native Housing Authority bought and renovated the building to be used for housing for indigenous people seeking medical treatment at Vancouver area hospitals; but when it got less use than anticipated, the Housing Authority turned it into a boutique hotel for tourists and art studio and living space for indigenous artists. Eighteen suites on the top floors are for paying guests.

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Each suite has a theme and lovely name such as the Sea Kingdom Suite, Moon Suite and the Wilderness Teachings Suite. Our’s was the Northern Lights Suite featuring two beaded metal wall hangings by Nancy A. Luis, one of a black bear and another of two wolves singing to the moon woven into a dream catcher. A wall mural painted by Jerry Whitehead of a procession of powwow dancers beneath the Northern Lights greeted us every time we entered and left the room. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can appreciate the details and art of the suites here.

Proceeds from the hotel support the indigenous artists who live on the other floors of the hotel and their studio spaces which are located there as well.  “You arrive as a guest and leave as a friend,” said the front desk clerk who checked us in and then showed us the breakfast room (pointing out the single slab cedar breakfast bar), fireplace and seating area to read, sip a glass of wine and meet the other hotel guests, all of them drawn by the experience of supporting the unique dual mission of Skwachays Lodge.

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It was Thanksgiving, we had a travel theme and so we asked the staff at Skwachays for a dinner recommendation. They suggested the Native owned Salmon and Bannock Bistro on West Broadway. The small restaurant was packed. Indigenous art hung from its red walls and the menu was all tasty aboriginal dishes from local ingredients including bannock, bison tenderloin, game sausage and Indian Candy (salmon smoked and candied). The restaurant serves wine from Nk’Mip, British Columbia’s only First Nation winery.

The hotel staff became our resource for cultural experiences as well. In addition to all of the art, there was a smudge room on our floor which can be used by hotel guests with advance reservations through the hotel. We hadn’t done that so the staff recommended the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art to see the works of Canada‘s acclaimed Haida artist and other indigenous carvings, paintings and jewelry. The gallery is like a museum with touch screens that explain the art and often artists at work. The hotel advised us on how to use the city’s extensive mass transit system to get to the Museum of Anthropology located on the University of British Columbia campus.

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MOA, the Museum of Anthropology, is home to Canada‘s best collection of indigenous art and artifacts.  Even the architecture of the building was inspired by Northwest Native post and beam structures. Full length windows in the Great Hall help showcase many towering totem poles and wooden carvings. The museum also features indigenous cultural artifacts from all over the globe in room after room of display cases and pull-out drawers all tastefully displayed and explained. To do the museum justice takes most of a day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador: Christmas Eve Day’s Pase del Nino

A theme is emerging in my December posts about how the Christmas holidays are celebrated elsewhere. Right below my Halloween birthday, the holiday season around Christmas ranks second on my list of favorite celebrations. Sometimes I’m home for Poulsbo’s very Scandinavian December and sometimes I like to venture further afield as I did here and here to experience the festivities elsewhere. It’s interesting how religion often shapes the most exuberantly celebrated days of the Christmas season, particularly in Catholic majority countries. In Ecuador, its Christmas Eve Day. While here at home, December 24th is filled with last minute shopping and the opening of gifts, Ecuador celebrates Christmas Eve with Pase del Nino, a religious procession from the neighborhoods to a central church or plaza in the city in honor of the birth of Jesus . The day culminates at Misa de Gallo, midnight mass or literally translated as Rooster Mass.

In Cuenca, Ecuador where I landed for a Christmas, the celebration is called Nino Viajero, “the traveler child”. It’s an all day colorful procession with 50,000 participants from Cuenca and the surrounding villages and over 200,000 spectators whose route passed the hostel we were staying in allowing a close street view of everything. Cuenca claims it is the largest Pase del Nino in all of Latin America. We (my peregrine son and I) got up early for the 10AM parade start assuming it was something akin to parades back home where people stake out spots early on the parade route. We hung out alone for a couple of hours. The crowd showed up just in advance of the procession.

The pase had women and girls in colorful dresses and elaborate hats riding horses, often adorned in their own equine finery.

Everywhere there were beautiful children dressed as shepherds and angels, some in the procession and others watching with us on the street.

There were Santa Clauses and dancers. Also lively brass bands. The procession is a combination of Catholic and indigenous traditions and has lately been heavily influenced by media. There have been years when costumed cartoon characters are part of the parade.

And there were food offerings – whole stuffed pigs, slabs of beef, whole roasted chickens and fruit and vegetables adorning floats.

maxresdefaultThe parade accompanies an 1823 statue of Jesus, the traveling child. Unique to Cuenca, their statue of the Christ child was taken to Bethlehem and to Rome for the blessing of the Pope in 1961 and has since been called the traveling child. The parade ends beyond a park in the central part of Cuenca late in the afternoon giving both participants and spectators a chance to go home to prepare for Rooster Mass.