Leader of Cofán Tribe of Ecuador Speaks at Knox College

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cofan_leaderRandall Borman has spent much of his life saving and preserving the Ecuadorian rain forest and indigenous culture he was raised in, he told an audience at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. on April 2.Borman, the son of missionary American parents and now a leader of the Cofán tribe, was born in 1954 in the village of Dureno, seated on the eastern slopes of the Andes. Cofáns, which base their survival on hunting, fishing and subsistence agriculture, live in an area, where Borman said it was hard to imagine that someday outside threats of oil companies, deforestation and other environmental, economic, political and cultural issues
would be at stake.“There was an ocean of forest. It was impossible to imagine that this could be altered,” he said. “The whole idea of indigenous rights was something (for the government) not worth getting involved with.”After attending college in the U.S., Borman returned to Ecuador where he found roads bulldozed through the jungle, polluted waters and a scarcity of wildlife species.In the 1980s and 90s, Borman and the Cofán people successfully stopped private and government-backed oil exploration in the territory. The tribe also developed many conservation projects, including Cofán Community Ecotourism, which Borman said was probably the first indigenous community-based tourism project in the world.
“The development of a conservation mentality began,” said Borman, who shares three sons – one a Knox College student – with his wife, Amelia, a Cofán woman.
He said the overall conservation land-rights efforts were twofold: one, internally, take control of the ancestral land to create a national tribal identity, and two, externally, present the Cofán nation to Ecuador and the region.
The initiatives, being implemented through the non-profit Cofán Survival Fund of which Borman is director, also included other environmental and conservation projects. Among them was the community’s role in increasing numbers of Amazon River turtles, which Borman said were near extinction.
The logistics of making such changes happen are many, including, staffing, planning, training, education, equipment and transportation.
“Through the years, one of the biggest things we were facing were the oil companies,” Borman said. “The fights with the oil companies bought a lot of attention to us.”
Those battles are still being fought in court. But meanwhile, Borman has numerous other projects to help improve and preserve the lives of the Cofáns and their land, including English and Spanish-language training, ranger education and a handicrafts program.
To learn more about Borman go to www.cofan.org/randy.htm. To learn more about the Cofán tribe, go to www.cofan.org/quienes/quienes.html.

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