PROJECT TEPUI: The Facts
What is Project Tepui?
Project Tepui is an initiative created to support the protection of indigenous land rights in the Amazon rainforest. The local people are the best stewards of the land, and by ensuring their rights are protected, we protect the rainforest too.
The design of each necklace recalls something from the jungle; traditional basketry, palm seeds, the wings of a vulture, leafcutter ants, the ever present rain.
The idea for Project Tepui was born after my second trip into the Amazon. Living and working within indigenous communities, my attention was drawn to the constant fight to preserve traditions and knowledge in a rapidly changing region. As governments allow resource extraction companies to push ever further into the jungle, the local people suffer the consequences.
Seeing friends and mentors affected by rampant corruption and increasing development galvanized my desire to push back and help secure a future--on their own terms--for the people I care about and the place my spirit calls home.
I do not want the next generation to look back and ask why we did nothing.
Why the Amazon?
So many reasons. The first being that it is beautiful, and wild, and we should fight to preserve that in our world.
The Amazon rainforest produces 20% of our planet’s fresh water, and between 20-30% of our oxygen. It is the most biodiverse region on the planet and thousands of yet-undiscovered species are thought to live there. 25% of our prescription medications come from rainforest plants, including 1,300 of the 2000 known cancer-fighting species. However, this region's vibrant and complicated ecosystems are also incredibly sensitive.
The Amazon is also home to thousands of tribes, a dizzying mosaic of languages and cultural practices reaching back thousands of years. Despite the continued loss of their rights and lands following colonization, and often facing horrific violence, they have survived and kept their cultures and traditional knowledge alive. Their resistance and strength is a lesson to us all, and their knowledge is an essential part of better understanding of our world and its many gifts.
"Indigenous knowledge is essential for the use, identification and cataloguing of the [tropical] biota. As tribal groups disappear, their knowledge vanishes with them. The preservation of these groups is a significant economic opportunity for the [developing] nation, not a luxury."
-Robert Goodland, World Bank
Resource Extraction and its Consequences
Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's surface. They now cover only 6%. At the current rate of destruction, we will completely lose all rainforests within 40 years and with them, half of the world's species.
As the rainforest shrinks, we also lose potentially life-saving drugs. While over 25% of western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest materials, it is estimated that only 1% of species have been tested. The preservation not only of the rainforest itself but the knowledge of the people who know it best is our best chance at fighting currently untreatable diseases.
The Amazon represents 54% of the total rainforests left on earth. Between 2015 and 2016, the rate of Amazon deforestation spiked by 29%.
In 2016, seven massive oil spills occurred in the Peruvian Amazon, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the rivers and tributaries on which people depend. Government response has been minimal, and the indigenous people of the area have been left to clean up the mess without equipment or protection. Devastating health problems have already started to appear and it is estimated the local flora and fauna will take decades to fully recover. This is becoming an ever more frequent occurrence.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Chevron deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic wastewater into rivers and streams, spilled millions of gallons of crude oil, and abandoned hazardous waste in hundreds of unlined open pits. The consequences of this have been referred to as the “Amazon Chernobyl”.
People living in the region today report epidemic levels of cancer, skin lesions, birth defects and miscarriages. Social conflict as governments and corporations compete for oil profits only adds insult to injury. The soil, groundwater, and rivers are devastated. Chevron has never carried out a full scale cleanup effort. Its abandoned infrastructure continued to poison the people and one of the most biodiverse regions on earth.
If we do not push back and pressure governments to choose the rights of their people over those of corporations, we stand to lose far more than we gain from the brief glut of fossil fuels.
"Oil will destroy the place where our rivers are born. What will happen to the fish? What will the animals drink?"
(quote via Survival International)
The world’s largest concentration of uncontacted tribes lives in the densely forested border between Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. Their cultures are unique, enduring for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. They have rejected contact mostly as a result of violence and disease brought in by outsiders.
On the very rare occasions they are seen or encountered, they make it clear they want to be left alone. However, there are many outsiders who seek to force contact with them. Missionaries, who believe them primitive and sinful; academics, who say their existence is ‘not viable in the long term’. But most often, contact occurs because their resource-rich lands are valuable to loggers and oil companies.
In more recent decades the illegal drug trade and its associated conflict has displaced thousands of people in the Amazon region. Once-safe regions are now being overrun by illegal coca growers, displacing both contacted and uncontacted peoples. In some areas, drug traffickers have slaughtered entire villages.
Uncontacted peoples are forced to live on the run, fleeing violence from those who seek to exploit their lands. Their genocide will be complete if pressure is not put on governments to create reserves and properly police the borders of their lands. But money talks, and despite long-term and fierce opposition from other tribes, oil and mining exploration continues to be approved into the hearts of these precious lands.
Governments have recognized some territories for uncontacted tribes but it’s not enough. More must be created so that all tribal territory is included in a protected area, and the borders must be properly policed and funded so that drug traffickers and illegal loggers cannot continue to operate on their land with impunity.
How can I help?
The best way to protect the rainforest and ensure its survival is to include the people who know it best in its conservation and protection. By purchasing a Tepui necklace, you’ll ensure that one of our planet’s richest regions--both in culture and biodiversity--is defended from greed and its people are allowed to move forward on their own terms.