Nina Gualinga leading the way
Nina was raised in the Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon where she was taught about the magic of the rainforest by her grandma. But at the age of seven, she witnessed a conversation that would change her life. An oil company representative came to the community with a plan. The company wanted to buy the forest from Nina’s community to extract oil. That would make the company very rich, but would destroy the forest and Nina’s way of life in the process. He offered them 10,000 dollars, education, and healthcare. It was clear, however, that he had no intention to follow through with his empty promises. Thankfully, the women of her community refused and sent him away.
Nina had a terrible feeling in her stomach after witnessing this exchange. She saw the man handing out apples to the other children in the square, a rare treat, but the memory of the previous conversation made her turn around and run in the opposite direction. This was her first act of resistance.
Since then, Nina has been advocating for stronger protection of the Ecuadorian Amazon,its wildlife and the people who depend on it. Nina Gualinga is now a 25-year-old indigenous woman leader in the Kichwa community of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Raised by a Sarayaku mother and a Swedish father, she considers herself a bridge between two worlds. She has been actively involved in local, national, and global advocacy efforts since she was 8 years old. She is strongly engaged in the UNFCCC process, attends the annual UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP), and regularly participates in international conferences to defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon and promote climate justice. When she was 18, she represented Sarayaku youth at the final hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, winning a landmark case against the Ecuadorian Government for violating Sarayaku rights and territory for oil drilling.
In 2018, she was awarded the WWF International President’s Youth Award. She is currently on a mission to combat extractivism and women’s rights. She is inspired by the beauty of the natural world she grew up in, and motivated by the people around her who are fighting every day to protect their families and their home: the Amazon rainforest.
Story by Cécile Girardin & Kaya Malhi