Elon University / Today in Elon / Geography expert lectures on environmental issues in the Ecuadorian Amazon to the Elon community

Latin American Studies hosted its annual spring semester 2022 research series, “Political Ecologies of Healing in the Americas,” by UNC geography professor Gabriela Valdivia.

Latin American Studies hosted its annual spring semester 2022 research series, “Political Ecologies of Healing in the Americas,” featuring Gabriela Valdivia, professor of geography at UNC Chapel Hill.

The Valdivia conference explored environmental issues in Ecuador, a country that has been impacted by the oil industry and faces critical social challenges with indigenous communities in the Amazon.

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

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

The conference touched on several layers that expose a complex issue facing Indigenous communities and offered an open avenue to think through this scenario at a critical time 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 heavily contaminated. The conference also focused on Ecuadorian political powers that manage to circumvent laws created to protect indigenous communities, such as the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. In addition, the conference covered the recent history of transnational investments and their impacts on communities that have become economically dependent on employment opportunities in refineries.

Valdivia addressed the issue of environmental justice and promoted a good understanding of Amazonian indigenous communities facing the invisible side of natural resource extraction. She shared her cooperation with Waorani leaders and her experience with the community, highlighting how collaborative projects foster spaces beyond identity differences. She also recounted her experience of traveling with the Waorani people in North Carolina, sharing her perspective on the benefits of this trip in promoting diversity globally and enriching cultural exchange.

The Valdivia conference advocated for the defense of Earth rights and explained the relevance of ecofeminism today. Elon’s students and community learned about a theory of healing presented by the speaker, which 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.