Apr 222008
Authors: Jessi Stafford

Nearly 120 villages rest deep within the Ucayali region of the central Peruvian Amazon. The people who make up these remote villages are of a tribe called Shipibo, a community that has lived off this land for centuries and whose livelihood is completely dependent on the Ucayali River.

But as the nearly 40,000 inhabitants continue to live off the land, they are fighting a corporate battle against oil giants and tree poachers they hardly know how to wage.

Thousands of miles away in Fort Collins, however, an organization called Village Earth, hopes to give the Shipibo the support they may need to sustain their way of life.

To aid in this process, Village Earth is hosting “A Journey to the Amazon: Indigenous Rights and Environmental Justice in Peru” tonight at 7:00 p.m. in the Agave Room, just above the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant.

“The Shipibo are struggling to protect water and forest from outside resources trying to extract oil and logs,” said David Bartecchi, director of program development at Village Earth. “We are helping them form a unified voice.” The Peruvian Amazon has one of the highest rates of deforestation, as the Peruvian government auctions the land off to oil companies, Bartecchi said, with little to no regard for the Shipibo.

And, with the various villages dispersed throughout acres of thick jungle and hardly any means of communication, the Shipibo have little opportunity to form a unified voice, Bartecchi said.

“Each village is very well organized, but from village to village there is very little organization,” he said.

While he believed Village Earth had helped form an indigenous government that could speak for everyone, Bartecchi said a local consensus doesn’t necessarily stand up to the Peruvian government.

“They do have loose boundaries and some rights, but just like the Native Americans here, the government ultimately can take the land,” Bartecchi said.

Despite this, Bartecchi and the rest of the crew at Village Earth continue working with the tribe to develop ways for the Shipibo to continue living as they always have.

“We begin with really dialoguing with the community in a workshop format . we come up with a community vision,” Bartecchi said. “Once you have a vision you can start making steps to get there . you can focus on what’s in the way of the vision.”

For the Shipibo, the vision is to preserve their “sense of a way of life,” Bartecchi said.

“They are considered an uncontacted people . they choose the way they want to live,” he added. “And we are defending that way of life.”

Kristen Pearson, the Peru program coordinator, said in the three years Village Earth has been working on the Peru projects, the most difficult aspect has been fighting the outside forces, which can sometimes make the task an arduous one.

Yet, she says she never loses hope.

“I always feel like there’s something we can do,” Pearson said. For Nixon Yuimachi, a Shipibo man who has communicated with Village Earth since 2005, the aid his people have received has been a key asset in keeping the land in the hands of those living there.

“It is very important to have allies like Village Earth for the Shipibo, so they have more strength in their struggles to protect their cultures,” Yuimachi said. In addition to food, a cash bar and dancing, Yuimachi will speak at the event this evening, and his paintings will be auctioned during the event.

Staff writer Jessi Stafford can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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