Ecuador - upholding the Rights of Nature

The Mirador mine in the Ecuadorian Amazon would be comparable in scale to the Kennecott open pit copper mine in Utah.
The Mirador mine in the Ecuadorian Amazon would be comparable in scale to the Kennecott open pit copper mine in Utah.
Deep in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest, a gigantic open pit copper and gold mine is planned in the heart of the Shuar peoples' territory. David Dene tells the story of a growing international campaign to uphold and defend the 'Rights of Nature', in Ecuador and beyond.
Planet Earth’s ecological systems are under threat. We are altering the fundamental patterns of relationship which have created the planet we live on.

Over the last few months I have been asked on numerous occasions how I have come to be involved with an European Citizens Initiative to introduce a directive into the European Parliament on The Rights of Nature.

The answer involves an ancient medicine, a deep friendship with members of an Amazonian tribe, witnessing first hand the devastation caused by extractive industries and ultimately the insight that all of us can make a difference.

My name is David Dene and I live in Andalusia, in Southern Spain (here is my blog).

This is my story

In 2001 I was invited to Amsterdam to partake in ceremonies using the plant medicine, Ayahuaska, from the jungles of South America. This medicine has been used for millenia by the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

I was so impressed that I invited the Shaman to come down to Andalusia. This was the start of this particular journey. Within a year, a Shaman, from the Shuar tribe of South Eastern Ecuador, came and introduced us to the Shuar Culture and their Ayahuaska Medicine, which they call Natem, or the Little Death, signifying death of the Ego.

I was consequently invited to spend time with this Shaman in Ecuador, which, of course, I did. Over the years a strong friendship was built up with various Shamen from the area who came over to visit us here in Southern Spain.

His Holiness The Dalai Llama took medicine in the jungle with these Shamen, so I felt that I was in good company.

One day, the phone rang

In 2012 I received a call for help from 'the family' as they were, and still are, threatened by a huge open pit copper and gold mine, set to mine 60,000 tons of ore per day.

The Open pit mine, to be 800 meters deep, 4 kilometers wide and impacting over 200 water sources will have horrendous effects on the Shuar Culture and their ability to live and pursue their lives.

This mine, financed by Chinese Government-owned mega-companies, has the potential to become one of the biggest mines on the Planet rivaling Bingham Mine at Kennecott in the USA.

The area is of huge bio-diversity and contains endemic species. In other words, the mine is in direct contradiction to the Rights of Nature enshrined in the Constitution of Ecuador.

Poisoned waterways

I decided that the best thing to do would be to visit the area and spend time with the Shuar and to visit NGOs working with them.

I spent 2 months in a Shuar community in the jungle where I learnt of the conflicts and divisions running throughout the 70 Shuar communities in danger from the mining project.

Planet Earth’s ecological systems are under threat. We are altering the fundamental patterns of relationship which have created the planet we live on.

In Quito I was able to secure a map of the hydrology of the area submitted in the Environmental Impact document. Here in Andalusia we used PhotoShop and showed how poisoned waterways could affect the communities. These maps were circulated throughout the 70 communities and were also used by NGOs in Ecuador.

We then created a website: as a resource for all people wanting to know about the mine.

Upholding the rights of nature?

Our next action was to set up an Avaaz petition calling on the judge, due to take the case presented to the Constitutional Court, to uphold The Rights of Nature. This case was dismissed, appealed, and lost on the grounds that mine was in the National Interest.

We funnelled the Avaaz petition through The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and built friendship with the Global Alliance and with Wild Law in Australia.

I wrote an abstract for a Wild Law Conference and was invited to speak in Brisbane, Australia.

Subsequent to that Conference I was invited to a Summit Conference of The Global Alliance held in Ecuador last January. At the end of the Conference we set up the first Citizens Tribunal to try cases which clearly abuse The Rights of Nature.

The Mirador mine will be one of the first cases to be judged

The Mirador Mine, in the Shuar territory was accepted as one of the cases to be judged, and at that time, in Quito, I was enrolled in an European Citizens Initiative.

I am now working as co-ordinator in a working group (currently 40 people in 14 EU countries) who are drafting a Directive to propose to the European Commission, on the Rights of Nature. We aim to bring a European Citizens Initiative later this year

Last Summer I visited Ecuador traveling with Amazon Watch on an advocacy tour to see the damage caused by Chevron in the North Eastern Ecuadorian Amazon. It is almost beyond belief. The 'Toxic Tour' is an apt description.

We also visited the Sarayaku tribe, deep in the jungle, who won their case against the Government of Ecuador. The case was heard in the International Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.

For the first time in the history of the court the judges visited the accused Government and declared against the Government of Ecuador, citing Human Rights abuse.

Even modest funding can go a long way ...

After leaving the Tour I visited tribal leaders in the South and at a meeting of the leaders they agreed that funding for regular monthly meetings would be a great help. The funding covers food, transport, communication, and the calling of reunions.

We started this funding last July and out of those meetings we have formed a school to work with 50 young Shuar leaders, to re-invigorate the Shuar Culture, to re-integrate communities, to teach on Human Rights and Rights of Nature and how to defend these rights.

We have been able to assist the Nations of Ecuador to meet and create resolutions heard in the General Assembly, (Parliament) of Ecuador. Work in progress is the creation of a film showing the potential damage likely from the mine and a short film on The Rights of Nature. Both films will be released in the next month or two.

We will be fund raising for the school and for a Shuar village project to introduce people to the true Shuar Culture, their traditional houses, their knowledge of plants and all life, their medicines and their life style.

You really can make a difference!

I have written this to show how it really is possible to make a difference, how respect and confidence and trust can start to shift paradigms of thought, and create real change.

This is both a critical, and a crucial time. Planet Earth’s ecological systems are under threat. We are altering the fundamental patterns of relationship which have created the planet we live on.

Our opportunity, indeed, our need, is to connect with others to take a stand for those fundamental relationships which we know as Nature.

We are developing an Internet platform to enable connection. The European Citizens Initiative and The Mirador Mine are two of the emerging catalysts to enable us, Citizens of the World, to take a stand together.

For me, this is a most rewarding and exciting adventure. I invite you to join in and to share the sense of joy, fun, and positivity embedded in all actions to empower Nature.



David Dene is co-founder of Protect Ecuador.

This article was originally published on EcoHustler.

See also: 'Being Nature - extending civil rights to the natural world', by Mumta Ito.

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