The earth belongs to man, or man belongs to the earth?  In this newsletter, the story of one community's struggle for its ancestral lands.

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Pachaysana: Arts fos Social Change in the Ecuadorian Amazon

"The earth is our life"

A brief history of Tzawata.

The Kichwa community of Tzawata is a quiet village in the picturesque Upper Ecuadorian Amazon. Their ancestral territory is rich with fertile soil, as well as gold. A series of events over the last 100 years has resulted in what is now a 5-year struggle to regain ancestral lands from a Canadian mining company.    

This complicated story goes back at least a century, when the land in question can be traced to direct ancestors of the current inhabitants. We know this via oral history and 100+ year-old fruit trees planted before the arrival of the area's settlers. 

In the early 20th century, settlers and missionaries arrived, displacing the community to a small infertile area on a nearby foothill of the Andes mountains. For decades, the people of Tzawata were forced to labor for the settlers, in agriculture and mining.  

In the mid 20th century the land was assigned a title, which passed through many settlers' hands, until eventually, at the turn of the 21st century, it was sold to a Canadian mining company.

Small-scale mining turned into an industrial enterprise, with massive machinery and chemical-based extraction; however, the company was mining without the necessary environmental permits. The company halted operations temporarily, at which time the community of Tzawata made a landmark move. 

"Because the lands to where we were displaced are not fertile, because our forest is diminished and there is no game for hunting, and because the company contaminates our ancestors' lands, we shall retake them for our children and grandchildren. The earth is our life." 

The community built new homes and planted their crops on the land. Since then, the military and police have come at different times to force the people back up the foothill, resulting in a on-going struggle, and a number of complex questions.

"How can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us."

Such local stories, complicated by the rules and needs of our globalized world, are the hardest to understand. When reading or hearing Tzawata's story, different people react in different ways, some saying, "these are ancestral lands that were taken illegally, they belong to the people of Tzawata," while others say, "the documents clearly show that the land belongs to the mining company, there is nothing that can be done."  The philosophical questions are fascinating: How does one own land? Who is in the right? Is there only one right? Is being right relative to culture? The questions are perfect for the college classroom, but they do not help communities resolve real-world conflicts.     

Our work with Tzawata. 

A small indigenous community struggling against an international company is intimidating to say the least, and no matter who we believe is in the right, Tzawata deserves access to knowledge and tools that empower their ability to defend themselves. With this in mind, Pachaysana's work with Tzawata is twofold: a) facilitating a creative dialogue that allows locals the opportunity to work with internationals and gain a better understanding of our globalized society, and b) developing tools to structure and express the local story. 
Our activities have included 1) bringing small groups of international students to visit and dialogue with community leaders, 2) inviting local youth leaders to join our Alternative Break programming that was highlighted in our April newsletter, 2) leading practical workshops with community leaders and youth populations, and 3) running an internship program in the community.

Our workshops are focused on organizing community participation and finding clear and creative ways to communicate with others, while at the same time providing information of other Ecuadorian communities that have struggled with similar conflicts. Our intern program is designed to provide the community with an extended and intensive dialogue with passionate international youth, who lived in Tzawata for a period of one month. The interns were tasked with learning the details of Tzawata's complicated story and then telling it back to the community as they understood it. This process helps us identify strengths and weaknesses, both in content and presentation. 

Throughout this section you see images of our work in Tzawata, as well as certain quoted words attributed to a 19th century speech/letter of Chief Seattle, as we can't help but think of them when working there. We give very special thanks to Belen Noroña, our amazing co-founder and co-director, who has led this effort, and our three hard-working and compassionate interns, Maria Nachbor (Juniata College), Osha Waterdu (Beloit College) and Renae Zelmar (Soka University of America).  
However, more importantly, we express our gratitude, admiration and respect for the people of Tzawata. Not only have they shared their lives with us, but they have taken the risk of sharing personal details of their story. We hope to have more information available on our webpage in the following months.
Rehearsing Change: Empowering Locally, Educating Globally
Applications for the spring 2015 semester are open. 

As usual, we remind you of our study abroad program, REHEARSING CHANGE, which not only finances a great portion of our work, but also serves as a launching pad for many community-based projects.  Be part of the first Fair Trade Learning semester-long study abroad program, where local community counterparts work and study alongside of the international students. Our project-based classes ask participants to examine the conflicts between local and global realities, and to use dialogue and innovation to create change.  REHEARSING CHANGE is academically accredited by the University San Francisco de Quito, which provides official transcripts to international students. Write for more info.
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