Why Amazon Villagers Sent 10-Year-Old Boy to America
Hugo Lucitante grew up with burden of saving his people
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2015 2:35 PM CST
An aerial view of an oil spill caused when a landslide damaged a main pipeline of Ecuador's state oil company, near the volcano El Reventador, in Ecuador's Amazonian region, Friday, June 1, 2013.   (AP Photo/ Petroecuador)
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(Newser) – You may not notice Hugo Lucitante: He's a guy working odd jobs in Seattle, at places like Chipotle or a used CD store, while attending community college courses. But he's also on a mission to save an Amazonian village that he once called home, California Sunday Magazine reports. Years ago, the indigenous Cofán people of Ecuador sent 10-year-old Lucitante to Seattle to learn English and get an education. They also hoped he would return to fight oil companies they believe are threatening their way of life. But Lucitante, now 27 and married to an American, has other responsibilities—like a baby girl and bills to pay. Still, he carries the flame by studying public speaking and traveling back and forth with his wife to his home village of Zábalo. He feels like a symbol, "like a dolphin for Save the Ocean," says Lucitante, but "I'm sure I'll never feel like I'm doing enough."

The Cofán struggle with Westerners goes back hundreds of years, when European diseases likely killed off thousands. Then, in the 1960s, oil companies began drilling in a Cofán village, forcing a general retreat; deforestation, oil spills, and sickness followed, along with a lawsuit including the Cofán as plaintiffs. The Cofán protected a swath of land, but also persuaded an idealistic US college student to take 10-year-old Lucitante to Seattle and raise him. Adaptation to America was tough, but helping the Cofán may be harder: Lucitante, subject of the documentary Oil & Water, wants them to have better schools, stronger homes, and a drone to monitor illegal mining and logging. He also plans to move back one day and lead his people, the Seattle Times reports. "My people’s culture and lives—everything that I have—we can’t negotiate that," he says. (Click to read about how a drone could settle a debate over the ancient Amazon.)