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Hope for the Future of the Amazon
by Chitra Gunderson


"When the big trees are gone, the birds have no home and our children will not know the joy of their songs,” says Chief Filipe, Porvenir, Peru.

Chief Filipe’s words sink into my heart like quick sand. With a feeling of devastating loss I see mental pictures of barren lands where lush rainforests once stood home to exotic birds, wildlife and medicinal plants. My heart aches knowing that now logging roads weave their way deep into the forests giving entrance for loggers to rape the lands, leaving in their wake homeless communities.

“What is our destiny?” I ask myself. “Without the rainforest to provide a majority of the earth’s oxygen and medicinal plants what will the future be like for our children, grandchildren and the people of the Amazon?” Then, as I read further I see a ray of hope for the future…
Chief Philipe continues, “And now, with you (John Easterling), we have rice and manioc and machetes and things for our people. And for you, these plants so your people can know the power of the forest. And now when the sun comes, the big trees will be there to greet the morning."

My mind was captured by the chief’s comments. I wanted to know more about the positive things being done in the rainforest. So, I contacted John Easterling to find out more details about his work and his vision for the future of the Amazon Region. What I found is a unique individual with a passion for rainforest preservation and helping native communities…definitely a ‘one of a kind’ person.

Affectionately called “Amazon” John by the indigenous people, John Easterling, CEO Amazon Herb Company has dedicated his life to rainforest preservation. For almost 30 years John has been developing relationships with the indigenous people of the Amazon Rainforest based on trust, mutual respect, and a common vision for a positive future.

It all started with John’s passionate desire to explore the Amazon seeking to unravel its mystique and discover the treasures. He was living his dream leading a life of adventure trekking through jungles searching for hidden civilizations and gem stones. Then a serious health problem he had struggled with for over a decade turned his attention from gems and lost civilizations to the Rainforest’s real treasures.

“I was exploring upriver on the Rio Ucayali, the main tributary of the Amazon. I knew I was in rough shape, chilling and sweating with fever in the searing afternoon heat. Weak and exhausted, I turned my motorized dug-out to the river bank and stumbled into a Shipibo village. Once I lay down, I couldn't get up. The natives took care of me. Their herbalist began feeding me a special mixture of herbs. A few days with these Shipibo Indians on the headwaters of the Amazon changed everything. I started getting stronger. Drinking Uña de Gato and Quebra Pedra herbal teas took my health not only back to where it had been before I was sick, but to an entirely new level of life experience. I quickly realized that the plants are the real treasure of the rainforest,” says John.

With a mission to bring the rainforest’s medicinal herbs to the rest of the world and offer a sustainable economic alternative to indigenous communities, John started the Amazon Herb Company. For over fifteen years the Amazon Herb Company has been taking proactive steps toward rainforest preservation by offering an eco-business model that is mutually beneficial to everyone involved.

“The object is to keep the circle of benefits going. So, as the consumption of the rainforest products grows the benefits to the rainforest also grows,” says John.

The way it works is the native people ecologically harvest wild botanicals from virgin rainforests, which provides their communities with a sustainable way to support themselves’ thus making the rainforest more valuable to them when it is alive and thriving. Forming sustainable business partnerships is just one of the many ways John helps make life for the native communities easier and more secure.

John explains, “There are many ways we are able to help the local communities. We provide motorized boats for faster travel up and down the rivers, water filters to purify river water for drinking and cooking, Naturopathic health care, and solar powered short wave radios to communicate between villages. Also, now there is a radio program in Shipibo language about the news and events important to the Shipibo communities broadcast by Glorioso Castro, Director of Regional Institute of Growth for Native Communities. So, those who have a radio in the village can tune in to listen to the latest news. Also there is a once a week radio program for women’s issues given by Senora Castro.”

John’s most significant work is to protect the rainforest against tree poachers by offering the legal assistance to help secure land rights for the native communities to own their tribal rainforest lands.

In 2003 the residents of the Shipibo village of Porvenir were given legal ownership to the 13,000 acres of land that sustains them. Over several years the Amazon Herb Company offered the direction and legal assistance needed to secure the deed for Porvenir. Then later attorneys and engineers were provided to defend their land rights in court when it was challenged by loggers. Victory was won when the court ruled in favor of Porvenir village and banned the loggers from encroaching on their land.

“We have a new vision of hope for our future,” said Chief Philipe. Without the help of the Amazon Herb Company the village of Porvenir may have been destroyed...another village trampled on...more trees cut down…more of the healing benefits of our living rainforest lost forever.

As the word about John Easterling’s help spreads to other native communities the chiefs come forward to introduce themselves to him at the company’s headquarters in Peru, hoping to also receive the benefits of affiliating with the Amazon Herb Company.

The most recent visit was in September 2005 when the Chief of Neuvo Eden, Hildefonso Del Aguila Flores, came down the Rio Pisqui River, a 3-5 day trip by boat and hitchhiking, to ask John for help in forming the Federation of Native Communities of the Pisqui River Basin, also known as the Rio Pisqui Federation.

“Rio Pisqui River lies deep within the Peruvian Rainforest,” explains John. “From Pucalpa it takes about 8 hours traveling by boat along the Rio Ucayali River to the Rio Pisqui River, then another 20 hours to get to the end of the river where it meets the Andes. So, it was a significant trip for Chief Aguila Flores to travel that far to meet with me.”

Ten communities live along the 100 mile stretch of the Rio Pisqui (Neuvo Eden, La Cumbre, Manco Capac, Charasmana, Tupac Amaru, Vencedor, Irazola, Santa Rosa, 9 do Cotubre, Tres Unidos), Neuvo Eden being the largest with 1500 members. These communities wanted to come together as a group to have a voice to protect the land along the river, an area rich in natural resources and wildlife and to have the right to decide for them selves what would happen to their lands, their future and the future of their children. They were concerned that the lumber and oil companies would take over major land rights in the area – the time was right to come together to protect the whole Rio Pisqui River region.

John coordinated and funded the forming of the federation by flying three of the federation representatives to Iquitos, supplying legal assistance and living expenses. After taking several week long trips over many months the goal was accomplished…the Rio Pisqui Federation was formed.

“I am pleased the way things developed with the formation of the Rio Pisqui Federation – the legal process usually takes three years or more. The consciousness around the program was very positive; from beginning to end the whole process took only nine months to complete,” says John.

Forming the federation has legally empowered these ten villages to have greater say over what happens in the region. It grants them greater authority to protect and preserve the land, plants, animals and bodies of water there as well as their traditional knowledge and way of life by advocating for laws favoring native communities. It also gives them the opportunity to provide a better education for their children.

When I asked John what the next step was for the Rio Pisqui region, he explained, “The big goal was getting the federation formed now we will go into the area to get the rainforest land deeded and titled to the individual communities along the river. We will also help with supplies for the schools. Only a couple of communities have schools, others need assistance with educational materials – paper, pencils, and financial assistance to start schools.”

John Easterling was invited to Nuevo Eden to “swear in” the 17 member board of directors of the new Rio Pisqui Federation. Upon his return to the USA, he received a formal letter of appreciation from the president of the federation:

June 24, 2006

Dear Sir:

As soon as we returned from our business trip to the city of Iquitos, the first thing I am doing is to take the pleasure in writing you these few words of gratitude and to once more express our deepest gratitude for the many attentions received from your worthy company. Words do not suffice to express that your kindness and supportive spirit have eternally sealed our gratitude.

Thank you for all that you and your worthy company have done for us. My only desire and good fortune gain me the opportunity of having you in our Native Communities of the Rio Pisqui River, and I know that we will never be able to repay the exquisite care of which we have been the object.

Your friend,
Hidelfonso Del Aguila Flores, President of the Federation of the Rio Pisqui, affectionately greets you.

John Easterling’s passion and dedication to rainforest preservation and helping indigenous communities’ stands out as more than a career or business…it is what he lives for…every moment of every day.

Since 1990, the Amazon Herb Company has been working directly with Rainforest communities in an eco-trade relationship to create new models of prosperity and sustainability. Offering everyone the opportunity to take part in an eco-business by creating a business model where health conscious people, ecological entrepreneurs, indigenous tribes, and the Rainforest all win from a mutually beneficial circle of ecological commerce. With a model of sustainable eco-harvest the Amazon Herb company has protected hundreds of thousands of acres of Rainforest from destruction.

Deforestation activities continue to destroy the lungs of our planet, tropical botanical species, and indigenous cultures. For more information about how you can take a pro-active part in rainforest preservation contact Chitra at Chitra@RainforestCanopy.com.
 

Objectives and Goals of the Rio Pisqui Federation
As Outlined in the Founding Decree

  • Protect and promote the integrity of the region while conserving its natural resources.
  • Promote bilingual education while maintaining ethnic identity.
  • Renew and strengthen traditional and spiritual medicine, including medicinal plants, healers, practices and songs.
  • Protect traditional knowledge.
  • Watch over the social dignity and integrity of the native community and its members, food, shelter, health, education and labor.
  • Strengthen ties between the communities of the Rio Pisqui, as well as with other native communities and national and international sectors.
  • Work toward a constitution of a native Amazonian organization.
  • Promote the organizing of multi-communal enterprises creating a consciousness of solidarity and efficiency.
  • Promote community work and participation through incentives.


Appreciation Letter from Republic of Peru translated to English

Republic of Peru
Ucayali Regional Government
“Year of the Infrastructure for Integration”

Letter of Gratitude

The Regional Institute of the Development of Native Communities – IRDECON-GRDS, on behalf of the Indigenous Shipibo Conibo People, convey our recognition and gratitude to Mr. John Easterling, CEO and the Amazon Herb Co. Associates, for the support that they bring to the native indigenous communities in areas such as – obtaining the official recognition of the communal territory (LAND Rights), Health, fluvial transport (Boats), acquisition of communication equipment, sponsoring indigenous radio programming, as well as the commercialization of natural products; all of these directly benefiting the Native Communities of Nueva Eden, (Rio Pisqui), Porvenir, Galilea, Puerto Firmeza, San Francisco, Caco Macaya, Puerto Nuevo and Curiaca.

For all of this we commend you and are thankful for your humanitarian support and solidarity with the Indigenous People of the Amazon.

Pucallpa, December 5th, 2005
UCAYALI REGIONAL GOVERNMENT
REGIONAL INSTITUTE OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF NATIVE DOMMUNITIES – IRDECON

Glorioso Castro Martinez
Executive Director - IRDECON

 
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