Environmental conservationist hero Patricia Gualinga and the indigenous people of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon were given a big platform Monday with a little help from actor Alec Baldwin.
Baldwin hosted a panel discussion on indigenous peoples and climate change at the Social Good Summit in New York City. Among his guests was Gualinga, the international relations director for the indigenous community of Sarayaku, whose tireless efforts to protect the rainforest in her homeland has made her an icon in the environmentalist community.
"We want to be heard. We want the opportunity to amplify our voices and to show that this is our contribution," Gualinga said. "We're not just poor, indigenous people that have these complains. We are making valuable contributions to the world by protecting our rainforest."
Mission accomplished: Gualinga's powerful speech Monday earned her a standing ovation and got her trending nationally on Twitter. Baldwin called Gualinga a "hero."
Gualinga has a long record of environmental activism. She is the spokeswoman for Sarayaku, a rainforest community of 1,200 Kichwa-speaking people who have gained notoriety for their successful efforts fighting back against the oil industry's influence in their native land. The Ecuadorian government has sold the oil drilling rights to many of its indigenous lands in recent years, but Sarayaku has been spared thanks to the collective activist effort of the community.
"We can't feed our children oil," Gualinga told Amazon Watch in 2013. "When others have surrendered, Sarayaku will not back down!"
Gualinga has toured the world preaching about how Sarayaku can be an example for others to push back against the threats the oil industry poses to the environment. She says her community's fight is only part of the larger battle to curb the effects of climate change.
"If we continue preying on the Earth under the banner of the oil economy, we put at risk both our lives and that of the planet," she wrote for Huffington Post in 2014.
Earlier this year, International Business Times spoke with Kátia Brasil, the founder and executive editor of Amazônia Real, a weekly digital news magazine that covers the largely rural Amazônia region in the north and the uphill battle journalists and activists face combating deforestation in Brazil.
"These regions need to get more visibility because the media has such an important role in fighting the deforestation and other issues," Brasil said.