Siekopai Land Back Victory

Aliya Ryan
January 25, 2024

[Cover photo: Members of the Siekopai Nation stand united for the recovery of their ancestral homeland, known as Pë’këya. Credit: Amazon Frontlines]

We are delighted to celebrate news from late November, that our partners the Siekopai Nation of Ecuador have achieved a critical victory in recovering their rights to 42,360 hectares at the heart of their ancestral territory, Pë’këya, thanks to a court ruling on November 24, 2023 which recognized their rightful ownership of the area. The Siekopai were forcibly moved from this area, known in Spanish as Lagarto Cocha, in 1941 when a conflict broke out between Peru and Ecuador, and the whole area was militarized.

Pëkëya, located along the Lagartococha River. Credit: Amazon Frontlines

The Siekopai have tried to return to their homelands many times over the last 80 years, but early attempts to reestablish settlements were destroyed by the military. In the intervening years, national parks were created on both sides of the international border, formed by river Pë’këya, and other Indigenous communities have set up villages nearby, finding rich, apparently uninhabited lands.

Meanwhile the Siekopai, pushed upriver into Ecuador, and downriver into Peru, have been divided, and forced to make homes and find livelihoods in ecosystems very different to those embedded into their cultural and embodied memory. 

Starting in 2016, our team worked with the Siekopai when they began mapping and documenting their ancestral lands, reconnecting elders with forests and lakes they hadn’t seen since childhood, while building new relationships with the land for the youth. This work culminated in 2022 when they presented a lawsuit to the Ecuadorian Government, demanding the recognition of their land rights. The legal documentation included maps which provided evidence of their ancestral rights, with data collected using Mapeo, Digital Democracy’s flagship mapping tool which the Siekopai helped co-design.

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Members of the Siekopai Nation during the community-led mapping process. Credit: Digital Democracy

Community members review a map of the Territorial maps of Pë’këya that were among the evidence presented to the judges. These maps include documentation of historic and sacred sites, and important rivers and lagoons. Credit: Amazon Frontlines

The judgment in favor of the Siekopai came from the provincial court of Sucumbíos. It rules that the Ecuadorian environment ministry must deliver a land title to the Siekopai, as well as giving a public apology for violating their rights for all these years. This is the first time that an Indigenous People in Ecuador have been granted title to ancestral lands lying within a national park, and it sets an important precedent for the country as well as the international LandBack movement. 

The Siekopai Nation gathers on the shores of the Aguarico river before beginning a long journey towards their ancestral homeland. Credit: Amazon Frontlines

  • Read more about the victory here: 

  • If you want to know more about our work with the Siekopai, take a look here:

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Aliya Ryan
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