Jenny García Ruales, Philipps-Universität Marburg

An Ecology of Legal Knowledges: Learning with the Kawsak Sacha from a Legal Anthropology Perspective

In 2008, the Rights of Nature were recognized in the Ecuadorian Constitution as part of a participatory process involving a heterogeneity of actors. Article 72 defines Nature, or Pachamama (as a whole), as a right bearing subject (Constitution of Ecuador 2008) based on indigenous forms of relationality with nature (Gudynas 2016: 96). Unsatisfied with this ecocentric form of constitutional (environmental) legal protection, the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, who also took part in the National Constituent Assembly convened to recognized the Rights of Nature, launched a declaration appealing to grant legal personhood to the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) located in their territory, the Pastaza Province in the Ecuadorian Amazon. This declaration implies the recognition of their material and spiritual relations with the Living Forest (and other beings of the animal, vegetable, mineral, cosmic, and spiritual worlds that inhabit it) within state law as a new legal category of protected area, including principles of cosmic ecology like Sumak Kawsay (Good Living) (Sarayaku 2016).

This thesis primarily aims to answer two questions: Why do the Kichwa people of Sarayaku aspire for a legal declaration, even though in theory the Living Forest is already a “subject of rights”, and what distinguishes their demand from the Rights of Nature recognized in the Constitution.  I intend to initiate a dialogue between state law and the Kichwa community to facilitate intertwined legalities and address the process of translating a human-forest-relationship (Sacha Runa) into a Western legal framework. This research sheds light on how to negotiate existing legal or state approaches to environmental protection against indigenous claims and examines the role of animism in environmental legal guarantees in the Ecuadorian Amazon context.

Drawing on theoretical approaches such as a) the Rights of Nature (Boyd 2017) and ongoing debates over environmental rights (Knox & Pejan 2018; Capra & Mattei 2015; Atapattu & Schapper 2019), b) the Ecology of Knowledges (de Sousa Santos 2018), c) Political Ontology (Blaser 2013), and d) the Anthropology of Life (Pitrou 2014), I want to contribute an anthropological perspective on collaboration with the Kichwa People of Sarayaku and thus provide the groundwork to express the notion to protect the Living Forest in legal terms.

Building upon an interdisciplinary dialogue between law and anthropology, my suggested methodology includes a legal scan of environmental legal guarantees in Ecuador and of how the Kichwa People of Sarayaku make use of the law, together with anthropological fieldwork consisting of three stages of collaborative multi-species ethnography. To illustrate the Kichwa community’s relationship with the heterogeneously entangled worlds in the Kawsak Sacha and their diverse use of the territory, I suggest a) a social (ontological) cartography, b) an exploration of a specific genre of material culture ‒ in this case, the elaboration of pottery, and c) a feminist approach ‒ “Mi cuerpo ‒ mi territorio” (my body as my first territory) to make possible -an all senses encounter- with the Living Forest. To address how environmental protection practices have shifted, I use ecological data on both specific and aggregated ecological events. I have selected this case study to examine how ecological data based on a specific environmental construction of a forest may influence the policy shaping legal structures and to fill with content the controversial and still abstract recognition of the Rights of Nature (Bétaille 2019; Whittenmore 2011).

In line with this, it is my intention to reflect on the practical implications of the legal recognition, the potential risks, and possible consequences for the Kichwa people of Sarayaku when a (changing) relationship with a territory is to be integrated into a Western legal framework.