28 June 2010 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Brianna Cayo Cotter, Rainforest Action Network (415) 305-1943
Mitch Anderson, Amazon Watch (415) 342-4783
Who: Indigenous and community leaders from Ecuador and Gulf Coast Native tribes
What: Boat tour of oil spill affected areas, public community meeting, cultural exchange
When: June 28 - July 2. Highlights include Tuesday boat tours out of Grand Isle, Wednesday leadership reception/exchanges in the Houma Nation, and a public forum in Houma Thursday at 6 pm.
Where: New Orleans and Louisiana Gulf Coast
New Orleans, LA – Gulf Coast American Indian Tribes in southeast Louisiana impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will be hosting a cultural exchange with their Ecuadorean counterparts who have been severely impacted for decades by Chevron's oil contamination in Ecuador's rainforest. The Amazon leaders will tour areas of the Bayou affected by the spill, have community exchanges with the Houma and other Gulf coast residents, and participate in a public meeting in the heart of the largest Houma community on Thursday evening. The Ecuadorean leaders are scheduled to arrive Sunday and hope to share their experiences in recovery and protecting health, livelihoods, and culture in the wake of an oil disaster of this magnitude.
"The Gulf spill is an absolute threat on who we are as Houma people and our way of life. Our homeland and the health of our people are at risk and we must plan for the long-term effects of this catastrophe," said Thomas Dardar Jr., Principal Chief of the United Houma Nation. "We look forward to meeting our brothers and sisters of the Amazon and sharing ideas and solutions regarding protecting the indigenous way of life when faced with such huge environmental impacts."
The United Houma Nation is a state recognized Tribe of approximately 17,000 citizens that reside along the coastal marshes of southeast Louisiana. Traditionally Houmas have lived off the land and work as fishermen and trappers. As the Deepwater Horizon disaster unfolds it holds a deeper meaning for the Houmas, who reside on the front lines – it is the uncertainty of whether the culture of the Houma as it stands today will survive.
"Our hearts broke upon seeing images of the tragic spill in the Gulf of Mexico," said Emergildo Criollo, a leader of the Cofan tribe in Ecuador's rainforest who will participate in the delegation. "We are honored to accept the invitation of the United Houma Nation to visit the Gulf. We hope what we have learned from our own torment at the hands of Chevron will strengthen the resolve of the communities affected by the BP spill."
Experts estimate that approximately 345 million gallons of pure crude were discharged into Ecuador's rainforest and waterways relied on by local groups for fishing, bathing, and drinking. For decades, Texaco (now Chevron) deliberately dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste, 17 million gallons of oil, and left over 900 unlined oil pits in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest. The contamination has decimated Indigenous groups in Ecuador and caused an outbreak of illness, birth defects, and cancers that account for at least 1,400 deaths.
Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, two U.S.-based advocacy organizations that have long-supported the communities in Ecuador, are helping to coordinate the delegation.