The Siekopai (also known as Secoya) are a group of Indigenous people who reside in the Amazon regions of Ecuador and Peru. Their name means the “People of Many Colors.” The Secoya language is Pai koka, which belongs to the Western Tucanoan language family. The Ecuadorian Siekopai population is roughly 600 people. Much of their population lives along the Aguarico River, in four main settlements: Eno, San Pablo de Katitsiaya, Bellavista, and Remolino. The Siekopai also have a territory along the border of Peru called Pë’këya (Lagartococha). They used to share their territory with the Siona people, and although some consider them a single population, both groups have their independent governance. In Peru, the Secoya population is around 700.
Pë’këya, which is a complex system of lagoons, streams, and flooded forests, is regarded as the traditional homeland and spiritual center of the Siekopai people. However, during a border dispute between Ecuador and Peru in the 1940s, the Ecuadorian government militarized the area, and the Siekopai were forced to leave both sides of the border. Subsequently, when the Ecuadorian government created a National Park in the region in the 1970s, the Siekopai were prevented from returning.
In an attempt to reclaim their land, the Siekopai have taken legal action against the Ecuadorian government, arguing that they are the ancestral caretakers of Pë’këya. The plaintiffs in the case include community elders who aim to recover their spiritual homeland and preserve their cultural heritage for future generations, young people who want to revitalize their traditions, and children who wish to learn and grow up with a sense of Siekopai identity and knowledge.
In January 2023, a provincial judge will hear testimony from Siekopai elders, leaders, young people, and children, as well as view maps, archaeological evidence, and paintings that attest to the Siekopai's historical ownership of the land. As the hearing approaches, community members have expressed their profound perspectives and clear message to the judge, court, Ecuadorian government, and the world: Pë’këya is critical to Siekopai survival, and the time has come to return their land.