Size of Herefordshire supporters gave a generous welcome to an inspiring leader from the Wampis indigenous people of the Peruvian rainforest. It was the least we could do: Shapiom Noningo Sesen was hugely impressive.. He spoke to us quietly, calmly, gently, imparting wisdom as much as knowledge. Film-maker Dan Haworth-Salter, who visited and filmed in the rainforest of the Wampis Nation last year on behalf of the Size of Herefordshire, spoke at the welcome meeting for Shampion of the novel experience at finding that when he asked questions to Wampis leaders, the answers he got were direct and unadorned. There was none of the calculation and spin that he had experienced when interviewing Western politicians.
So it was with Shampion, effectively the foreign minister of the Wampis nation. In answers to questions, Shampion spoke frankly of how the Wampis would still have to use the rainforest once they have full control of it, but not for mining or oil, but sustainably, organically. He spoke of the difficulties of working with national government. In Peru as well as all Latin America, government is corrupt and makes corrupt decisions. One corrupt tactic in Peru is the Government declaring an area of the rainforest a "conservation area", after token consultation with the forest peoples. Perversely, this conservation area has rules which then make it much easier for the government to allow in mining and petroleum companies.
The message from Shampion though was upbeat; " I am one hundred percent optimisitic" that the Wampis will be able to protect their rainforest territory, he said in Spanish, very ably translated by Anna Campbell. He plainly appreciated the efforts of NGOs like the Forest Peoples Programme and fund-raising groups such as the Size of Herefordshire. Money raised by us has funded a vital boat, with a powerful engine. The boat, named The Hereford, is deployed in ferrying Wampis leaders to meetings which they hold to progress the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation, the declaration made last year that is so vital to success in protecting their territory. Shampion reminded the gathering that the Wampis people had been fighting for their territory for centuries, going back to the time of the Incas. "We know well how to fight" he said,
The gathering was also treated to an excellent 15 minute film on the Wampis' struggle by Dan Haworth-Salter, that he is making for the Forest Peoples Programme for advocacy. The film was both informative and moving, featuring a number of Wampis people, men and women, relating the meaning of the rainforest to them and their determination to protect it.. The Size of Herefordshire website will shortly have a 5 minute version of this film included on it.
After the meeting, Shampion got a short conducted tour of the centre of the Hereford. He may have been surprised that Hereford Cathedral at 5.30 on a Sunday evening was closed. He was though undoubtedly impressed by the City's statue in St Peter's square: the muscular Hereford bull. "Ah, Toro" he said. "Muy bien."