Ecuador: court orders return of Siekopai homeland

In what is being hailed as an historic decision, on Nov. 24, an appeals court in Ecuador ordered the return of a 42,360-hectare expanse of the Amazon rainforest to the Siekopai indigenous people, generations after they were driven from the territory by the military. The Provincial Court of Sucumbios ruled that the Siekopai (also known as Secoya) retain indigenous title to their ancestral homeland, known as Pë’këya, which lies along the border with Peru in remote country.

The lands were seized by Ecuador's army during the war with Peru in 1941, and remained a military-controlled zone untill being incorporated into Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in 1979. The reserve has recently been opened to tourism development, without the consent or consultation of the Siekopai. Ecuador's Ministry of Environment has been given 45 days to deliver a property title to the Siekopai Nation, and make public apologies for the usurpation of their homeland.

The case, filed in September 2022, was backed by a strong body of evidence including oral testimony by Siekopai elders and amicus curiae briefs from jurists, anthropologists, ethnobotanists, historians, and the regional office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

With a population of barely 800 in Ecuador and some 1,200 in Peru, the Siekopai are on the brink of cultural and physical extinction—threatened by oil development, disease, and degradation of their remnant lands. On both sides of the border, the Siekopai are currently waging legal battles to recover more than a half-million acres (200,000 hectares) of their ancestral lands. (Amazon Frontlines, OneEarth, CNN, TeleSur, AFP)