By Luminita Cuna, Maloca Project Director The first week of the Huaorani in New York is coming to an end. It has been an interesting few days for them – they attended several meetings and events at the UN, met a lot of new people, and also had some time to marvel at the vastness and craziness of New York City. The Huaorani started their week with an event called “Safeguarding our Lands and Peoples : The Huaorani come to QC” organized for the Huaorani by Judith Kimerling, Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Queens College (CUNY), with the help of a number of QC student clubs. Professor Kimerling has been working with the Huaorani on legal and human rights issues for years and has helped bring the Huaorani delegation to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
At the daily UN sessions, Penti and Cahuiya met many indigenous people with whom they shared their concerns and issues from back home. They found out that lack of a voice, land issues, stakeholder involvement, marginalization or exclusion from certain processes, encroachment of territory, insecure or nonexistent land titles are issues faced by indigenous people all around the world. It was interesting to exchange experiences and information in dealing with these issues. One of the most important outcomes for the indigenous people at the Forum is coming together and sharing experiences, seeing that they are not alone in the fight for rights, territory and self-determination, and exchanging ideas on how to handle these issues. During a side event organized by the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the UN, Penti and Cahuiya had the opportunity to listen to the Ecuadorian Minster of Cultural Patrimony talk about the Buen Vivir and Human Rights. Their territory – Yasuni – was mentioned in the speech, and although the Huaorani were not given the opportunity to ask questions during the Q&A session, they were able to talk briefly to the Minister after the meeting and express their concerns about land titles and their representation in matters that involve their territory.
When not at the UN, the Huaorani enjoyed walking in the city, from Midtown to the Village and Soho, and even made it this weekend to Staten Island! They enjoy the city although at times it gets quite noisy and crowded. They marvel at the height of the buildings, and they noticed we have too few trees (and all of them are planted, not “natural”). And just in a few days they figured out a system to orient themselves and find their way quickly through the forest of glass-and-steel skyscrapers.