Michael Butler, Social Entrepreneur/Forest Conservation Intern:
Miguel shifted the motor into reverse and gently let off the gas. The canoe drifted onto the sandy shore of the Aguarico river, where we waited with backpacks, lifejackets, a cooler, and Ian’s dog, Terminator. After a 7 hour drive, we arrived in the small Secoya community of San Pablo. The setting sun turned the clear skies and the drooping trees along the river’s edge golden. We were about to begin the final leg of our journey: a 15 minute Canoe ride down the muddy Agua Rico to Miguel’s property.
Down river, we were greeted by Miguel’s children and grandchildren. As we carried our bags up the muddy trail we met Luke– Miguel’s son in law, born in Michigan, and a recent grad of Yale’s Forestry school. He has been living with the Secoya for the past 17 years through, so he’s practically one of them. The Forest Conservation Team (me, Gracie, and Ian) and the Social Entrepreneurship Team (Tracy and Madison), traveled up to Secoya territory because Yale put Ian (also a YFS grad) in touch with Luke. We wanted to hear what conservation projects Luke was up to and if we could work together in the future. After unpacking our bags, we chatted with Luke about the Secoya’s history as we watched the sun set over the river.
For thousands of years, the Secoya seasonally moved around in their territory as different food sources became available in different areas. In a nomadic lifestyle, the plants and animals they harvested were plentiful, including Yoko, a vine which they steep in hot water to create a highly caffeinated drink which they take shots of every morning. Only around 40 years ago, as they began to assimilate with the rest of the world, they transitioned to a sedentary lifestyle with permanent homes and agricultural plots. Though they continue to have plenty to hunt and fish, since they can now travel great distances along the Aguarico on motorized fiberglass boats, some of the plants they would harvest on communal lands, including Yoko, have become over harvested. In order to preserve an indispensable part of the Secoya lifestyle, Luke has began researching how to sustainably manage the harvesting of wild Yoko, and the potential to turn it into agricultural product.
Long after the sun set, we were called in for dinner. Over the next 3 days we continued to talk with Luke, Miguel and other family members about their lifestyle, about Runa, and the potential for Runa to support forest conservation and community development efforts in Secoya Territory. On our last canoe ride with Miguel and his family, we were dropped off at San Pablo, ready to return to Archidona to share what we learned and to continue developing a relationship with the Secoya.