Helena Gualinga. Photo: Clement Guerra.
19-year-old Helena Gualinga is an environmental and human rights activist from an indigenous community in southeastern Ecuador. Growing up, she split her time between Finland, where her father is from, and her mother’s community in Ecuador. Each time she would travel to Finland, she said she would be worried that her community would be threatened by ever-encroaching extractive industries and corrupt governments and corporations. That is how she became an activist, fighting alongside her neighbors and community. Her community is committed to preserving the Amazon and their environment.
Her activism focuses on the intersection of Indigenous rights and climate change, which is a vital point of view, because while climate change impacts everyone, it has a disproportionate impact on people of color. Through her home base in Finland, she has a wider platform to speak to people about protecting her community and defending it from the industries wishing to exploit it.
The year Helena was born, an oil company entered her mom’s community without the consent of the community, so she’s grown up in the aftermath of the damage. She said in an interview that when she grew up and realized she has a platform, she owed it to her people to try to help in whatever way she could. The climate movement has been steadily growing for decades, and she said we’re now at a tipping point for change. Young people are helping to lead the charge, but we need to keep the pressure on world leaders to make some positive change.