Geography expert gives talk on environmental issues in Ecuadorian Amazonia to Elon community

Latin American Studies hosted its 2022 Spring Semester Annual Research Series, “Political Ecologies of Healing in the Americas,” by UNC Professor of Geography Gabriela Valdivia.

Latin American Studies hosted its 2022 Spring Semester Annual Research Series, “Political Ecologies of Healing in the Americas,” featuring Gabriela Valdivia, UNC Chapel Hill professor of geography.

Valdivia’s conference explored environmental issues in Ecuador, a country that has been impacted by the oil industry and faced critical social challenges with indigenous communities in the Amazonian.

Valdivia was motivated to conduct research projects and work with underrepresented minorities after reading “Open Veins of Latin American” by the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano – a key book to understanding the dynamics of economic dependence and (neo)colonialism in Latin American countries.

The talk covered several initiatives  Valdivia has been participating in the last years with the Waorani people. This indigenous group inhabits the Ecuadorian Amazonia and is one of the most affected communities by the contemporary extraction of oil. Valdivia’s work with the Waorani people has been conducted in collaboration with Flora Lu, professor of environmental science at UC Santa Cruz, and financed by the National Science Foundation.

The conference approached several layers that expose a complex issue faced by indigenous communities and offered an open pathway to reflect on this scenario in the critical moment of contemporary environmental destruction.

The conference assessed the negative consequences of pipelines in the rainforest and explored the issue of “Sacrifice zones,” which are territories left unprotected and highly contaminated. The conference also focused on Ecuadorian political powers that manage to bypass laws created to protect indigenous communities, such as the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention by the International Labour Organization. Furthermore, the conference covered the recent history of transnational investments and their impacts on communities that became economically dependent on employment opportunities in refineries.

Valdivia approached the question of environmental justice and promoted a proper understanding of Amazonian indigenous communities confronting the unseen side of natural resources’ extractions. She shared her cooperation with Waorani leaders and her experience with the community, highlighting how collaborative projects foster spaces beyond identitarian differences. She also narrated her experience traveling with the Waorani people in North Carolina, sharing her perspective of the benefits of that trip to promoting diversity globally and enriching cultural interchanges.

Valdivia’s conference argued for defending the rights of the Earth and explained the relevance of ecofeminism today. Students and Elon community learned about a theory of healing presented by the speaker, who pursues environmental and social justice through research and community work.

The event was presented by the Latin American Studies Minor Program and sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Cultures and the Peace and Conflict Studies Program.