Native Village
Youth and Education news
March 1, 2010     Volume 4

Avatar' in the Amazon
Condensed by Native Village

Ecuador: A group of Amazon indigenous leaders traveled to Quito to see "Avatar" on the big screen in 3D.

For some, it's the first time they’ve ever been to a theater. Some have never seen a movie.

A few look confused as ushers hand them  thick dark 3D glasses. The seats fill up, so some sit on the aisle steps.

And then the lights go down.

Avatar tells the story of a planet called Pandora, home to the indigenous Na’vi. They’re fighting to protect their forests from a company set on mining a rare mineral called “unobtaneum.”

“[Avatar] left a huge impression on us," said Mayra Vega, 24, from the Women's Association of the SHuar Nation. " It’s an example that makes us think a lot because the indigenous are defending their rights. We have to defend, just as the indigenous so clearly defended in the movie. We had an uprising; we had a confrontation with gases. It’s the same as what we just saw in the movie.”

Vega says just like in "Avatar," the Shuar are fighting to protect their land from mining companies. And they’re not the only ones.

The Kichwa Community of Sarayaku took on CGC, an energy company in Argentina. Marlon Santi, president of the National Indigenous Confederation of Ecuador, is from Sarayaku. He sees his people's case as a real life "Avatar", where the indigenous won over the oil company. But unlike in "Avatar," they didn’t use violence.

Another case involves the Waorani.  Beneath their territory in Yasuni National Park lies 846-million barrels of oil. Yasuni is a biodiverse hotspot. Some refer to it as a grand lung of the earth. Yasuni is also home to uncontacted native groups who live in isolation.

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said he would block drilling in Yasuni's pristine environment if the world pays   Ecuador more than $3,500,000,000 --  about half the oil's value. But Correa has recently questioned the deal, causing an uproar at home.

Marlon Santi hopes Correa will bow to public pressure and preserve Yasuni. And he thinks "Avatar" could help with that. “Honestly, this is the first time I’m seeing this movie, and it’s reality, what’s happening now just in another dimension,” he said.

Some say one part of Avatar is not reality: the part where the white guy sweeps to the rescue. Achuar leader Luis Vargas says that’s to be expected.

“This is a Hollywood movie, so it’s practically a given that a mestizo comes to the defense and leads [the people] to triumph in the end," he said.

Fellow Achuar leader Ernesto Vargas hopes other indigenous groups have a chance to see it.  “Think of how much better it would be if we showed this film to people who actually want to exploit petroleum," he said.  "I think it would serve them very well, even more than us.”

Ecuador’s President Correa saw the movie with his children the day after it premiered in Ecuador. No word yet on what he thought of it.

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