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Pueblo Originario Kichwa de Sarayaku, Ecuador


We, the People of Sarayaku, have for generations fought for freedom and resisted against external aggression, invasion, and colonization. We are the Sarayaku Runakuna, descendants of the jaguar. We are the original inhabitants of the Bobonaza, Pastaza and Marañón watersheds, along whose rivers the Tayakkuna, bearers of a millennial wisdom, navigated–naming all the places they found along the way.

Sarayaku received legal recognition in 1979. Under the name “Pueblo Originario Kichwa de Sarayaku” (Indigenous Kichwa People of Sarayaku), its charter was revised and approved on June 10, 2004 by the Council for the Development of the Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CODENPE).

Article 71 of the Ecuadorian Constitution states that “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution,” and that, “every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public organisms.” In addition, Articles 25, 26 and 29 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples establish that, “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, [and] waters,” and that indigenous peoples further have, “the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources” that they have traditionally possessed. Fully exercising our right to self-determination and buttressed by our governing statutes, and in agreement with the Ecuadorian Constitution, as well as international legal instruments, we the Pueblo Kichwa Originario de Sarayaku


Sarayaku territory is KAWSAK SACHA–THE LIVING FOREST, A LIVING AND CONSCIOUS BEING: THE SUBJECT OF RIGHTS. This is something that we, an ancestral nation, have recognized since time immemorial.


KAWSAK SACHA is a living conscious being made up of all the other beings of the rainforest, from the smallest ones to those supreme ones –the Guardians– that protect the forest. It includes within it beings from the animal, vegetal, mineral, as well as spiritual and cosmic realms. The ongoing communication these beings maintain with us revitalizes us psychologically, physically, and spiritually, and, more generally, it helps reestablish the energy and equilibrium of indigenous peoples. The Guardians of the Living Forest make their homes in the waterfalls, lagoons,swamps, mountains, rivers and trees of our territory and carry out their lives in a manner similar to human beings. The Living Forest transmits its knowledge to the Yachak (shamans) who interacts with the Guardian Beings of the Forest with the goal of maintaining Pachamama’s equilibrium, and healing individuals and society. This knowledge is methodically maintained and transmitted to every new generation. The natural equilibrium of the universe, the harmony of life, our cultural survival, the ongoing existence of living beings, and the Living Forest itself, all depend on the persistent power of the Guardians of the Forest and their ability to continue to transmit it. It also depends on the possibility that these beings and our Yachaks can maintain a respectful relationship that seeks equilibrium between human beings and the beings of the forest.


The declaration has as its objective the sustainable preservation and conservation of our territory. This includes the material and spiritual relations that we establish in the Living Forest with the other beings that inhabit it. Our living territory is and will continue to be free of any kind of mercantilist activities that seek to extract wealth from the components that make up Kawsak Sacha. What we are proposing is a way of life based on criteria that come from the immaterial wealth that surrounds us, namely: the existence in our territories of clean rivers with abundant fish; the ability to live well with our many relations (ayllu); and the ongoing strength of our political organization.


Bolstered by the constitutional recognition of the intrinsic plurinationality of the Ecuadorian state, the Pueblo Originario Kichwa de Sarayaku asks that the Ecuadorian state recognize and legitimate Kawsak Sacha as a living and conscious being, the subject of rights. This would serve as a form of protection for our territory and, more generally, for the territories of all the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. To protect life and the environmental integrity of these territories is a human right and a non-negotiable principle. We are therefore calling to the indigenous nations and peoples in Ecuador and beyond to unite in the struggle to protect and guarantee in an unfailing manner this Kawsak Sacha –Living Forest Declaration. In a similar fashion, Sarayaku asks the wider international community to join us in supporting this declaration of protection for the territories of Amazonian indigenous peoples–a category that originates in the worldview of these very peoples at the same time that it fits well with international conventions aimed at supporting the conservation of biological diversity.

This case study was facilitated by the Small Grants Program in Ecuador (PPD/GEF/UNDP – GSI ICCA), in collaboration with the Latin American Association for Alternative Development (ALDEA).

The photographs in this case study are from the Small Grants Program in Ecuador, the collaboration agreement signed with ALDEA indicated that the production, audiovisual, photographic material or generation of documents within the framework of the GSI-ICCA/PPD project are from the PPD.

This case study was originally published by UNEP-WCMC in July 2020. The content was provided by the custodians of this ICCA. The ICCA has been self-declared and has been through a peer-review process to verify its status. More details on this process can be found here. The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UN Environment Programme or WCMC.