There is a fascinating article today in the Washington Post today about Randy Borman and the Cofan tribe in Ecuador. Borman, the son of missionaries who was raised with the Cofan in Ecuador, has helped the tribe expand the territory they manage to 6 times what it was in the early 1990's, from 300 to nearly 1700 square miles today.
In this age when indigenous people in South America (and elsewhere) face continuing encroachment from roads, dams, oil companies, farmers, etc, it is amazing that the Cofan, under Borman's guidance, have managed to protect their rainforest, and have actually increased the amount of land they manage.
Realizing the only way to thrive, or even survive, is to understand and work with the outside world, the Cofan are embracing education for their children and creating alliances with outside organizations, such as the Chicago Field Museum and various foundations in the USA.
Cofan are sending their children to private schools in Quito and to universities in the US. This was the path Borman himself followed -- born in the jungle, raised hunting and fishing, but studying in Quito and USA. Borman considers himself Cofan, having lived most of his life in the jungle with the tribe.
In the article, Borman "explained that the Cofan see the forest as a 'product' that can be sold to the world. 'That's what it is -- the product is the intact, functioning rain forest,' he said." He is now working on carbon credit plans that will allow wealthy nations to pay the Cofan to protect the rainforest. In the article Borman says that in the Cofan territory they have zero deforestation and zero damage done to the land.
Having spent a bit of time in the Amazon basin in Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, it is great to hear a positive story about indigenous people in the Amazon. Most recently I was with the Huaorani tribe, best known from Joe Kane's excellent book Savages, at the Huaorani Ecolodge. Much of the Huaorani land has been taken over by oil companies and settlers from the highlands, and part of the visit to the lodge includes a canoe journey from pristine jungle to an area decimated by oil development, to show tourists what is happening to the jungle.
The Huaorani have decided that tourism is one of the best ways to earn money while maintaining their traditional lifestyle, and the ecolodge is their tourism venture. Staying at the lodge is a fantastic insight into how people live in the jungle, and my visit there was one of my favorite trips all time.
We at Detour wholeheartedly support community based tourism projects such as the Huaorani Ecolodge, as it is another way for indigenous groups to have some say and control over their future. We hope all travelers will consider a trip to a community based tourism project so that while they are having an awesome vacation, their trip will also help to protect the way of life of an indigenous group.