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Sisters Attending Eco-tour of Amazon River Basin Encounter Rainforest and Indigenous Peoples
Sister Mary Priniski, OP, rides a kayak with Achuar guide Celestino Antik on a river through a mango grove.

Amazon Basin, Ecuador, January 6, 2023 – Sisters Mary Priniski, OP, and Lorene Heck, OP, view their recent eco-tourism trip to the Amazon Rainforest Basin as more than an adventure, more than a visit to the site of an organization that received a grant from the Congregation’s Ministry Trust Fund, but as a mystery and connection to neighbors far away. Sister Lorene is Director of the Ministry Trust Fund, and Sister Mary is Chapter Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Catherine of Siena Mission Chapter.

They were among 11 people participating in an eco-tour sponsored by Maketai, an organization founded by Adrian Dominican Sister Judith Bisignano, OP, to support the vision of the Achuar people in their territory in the Amazon. Attending the tour with Sisters Lorene and Mary were Sandra Morse, Director of Maketai, Inc.; Celestino Antik, Achuan guide; and Julián Larrea, Ecuadorian guide. 

The tour began in Quito, Ecuador, and involved travel by plane into the Achuar Territory of the Amazon Rainforest, where the group remained for six days. There they explored the rainforest, and came to know the Achuar communities, their culture, and the importance of the rainforest as the “lungs” of Earth.

Ministry Trust projects

The two Adrian Dominican Sisters arrived in the Amazon Rainforest with a sense of connection. Sister Judy had encouraged them to participate in the tour to experience the rainforest and to see first-hand how the funds from the Ministry Trust grant were being spent. Grants from the Ministry Trust fund community organizations and projects in which Adrian Dominican Sisters are involved.

The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Ministry Trust grant to Maketai for fiscal year 2023 provides funding to train members of the Achuar community to work as eco-tourist guides. Sister Lorene explained the desire of indigenous groups such as the Achuar “to have small groups of people come to see the importance of the Amazon Rainforest.” The eco-tourists then become advocates of the rainforest and the indigenous peoples, she explained. A previous grant funded the reforestation of the Achuar territory with the purchase of 10,000 saplings to be planted in three Achuar communities.

Sisters Lorene Heck and Mary Priniski stand next to the seated Shaman Rafael Taish Accommodations in the Rainforest - raised cots with mosquito netting around them under a canopy with open sides

Sisters Lorene Heck, OP, left and Mary Priniski, OP, with Shaman Rafael Taish.

One type of sleeping accommodation that Sisters Mary and Lorene, and the other eco-tourists used in the Amazon Rainforest.

 

Eco-Tour in the Amazon

The Sisters’ experience of the eco-tour deepened their sense of connection. The tour included time for participants to experience the forest through hiking, swimming, fishing, and viewing birds and the other wildlife. “Sometimes being in the jungle was really quiet, and then you hear the crackling which could be branches or some animals,” Sister Lorene recalled. She was impressed by many aspects of the jungle: the animals, birds, dolphins, mango trees, and 700-year-old kapok trees.

Adding to the sense of adventure was the means of travel from village to village as tour members met the Achuar people. Because the Achuar Territory has no highways, travel from one of the 40 Achuar communities to another is by hiking or canoeing. “To get to those villages is a 6- to 7-hour trek through the jungle,” or a 3-hour ride in a canoe – sometimes motorized and made more sustainable by solar panels, Sister Lorene said.

“We met some really wonderful people along the way,” Sister Lorene said. “The Achuar people themselves were described to us as quiet and shy, but once they became comfortable, there was a great exchange, even when we don’t speak the same language.” 

The tourists learned much of the culture of the Achuar, meeting with people involved in local crafts: weaving, pottery, and bowls and jewelry made of seeds from the forest. The Achuar live off the land, Sister Mary said, and are not in a monetary economy. 
 
Sister Mary spoke to the importance of preserving the rainforest as well. “The purpose [of the tour] is to save the rainforest,” she said. “The reason for people to go is to learn that we depend on this part of the world. It’s about sustainability. It’s about how the people there want to preserve the forest” from threats such as oil companies, which have obtained grants to blocks of land within the Achuar territory.

Sisters Lorene Heck and Mary Priniski in canoes with their guides traveling along the Amazon River

Sister Lorene Heck, OP, foreground, and Sister Mary Priniski ride kayaks through the river in a mango grove Achuar with guide Celestino Antik.

Connections

Sister Mary sees a strong connection between the efforts of the Achuar people to preserve their land and the efforts of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and other organizations and individuals throughout the world to live more sustainably. 

The Adrian Dominican Sisters have a Sustainability Enactment – a focus on sustainability for the next six years – with a “real focus on our Motherhouse property,” Sister Mary said. “It’s a natural link to see that what we’re doing in Adrian is linked to what the Achuar people are trying to do in their home in Ecuador … In some ways, you look at [Ecuador] as the other side of the world, but it’s the same struggle.” 

The Adrian Dominican Congregation’s support of the projects of Achuar “broadens our concept of what sustainability is,” Sister Lorene agreed. “It’s more than the acreage we have in Michigan.”

Sister Lorene said the people in the distant land of the Amazon Rainforest now are more real to her. “They are my neighbors because I have met them.”

Both Sisters expressed gratitude for the opportunity to visit the Amazon Rainforest and to meet the people of the Achuar Territory. “I’m so grateful for the experience,” Sister Lorene said. “Words just can’t express how grateful I have become.”

 

Feature photo at top: Sister Mary Priniski, OP, rides a kayak with Achuar guide Celestino Antik on a river through a mango grove.

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Avatar  Judy Bisignano, OP 2 weeks agoReply

Sisters Mary Priniski and Lorene Heck offered the perfect description of the Indigenous Achuar living in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. The Achuar reached out to their friends in the North, and the Adrian Dominicans responded with appreciation and respect for the caretakers of Pachamama (Mother Earth) in the South. The planet and its people are now better understood and appreciated.

A group of young Achuar men and women will be attending the Indigenous Caucus to the United Nations in New York City in April, 2023. This was made possible because Mary, Lorene, and Sandra Morse contacted Sister Dusty Farnan who works at the UN. Another ecotourist who was also on the trip supported the project with a generous donation to Maketai, Inc. The dream of the Achuar collaborating with Indigenous leaders worldwide about the sustainability of the planet immediately jumped from possibility to actuality! The Achuar believe their participation in UN climate change negotiations will be a major factor for convincing the Ecuadorian government to recognize their legal and birthright to claim their land as a nature preserve for all planetary citizens. It is indeed a bold adventure to create ONE PLANET—ONE OEOPLE as Pachamama intended.

MAKETAI means THANK YOU in Achuar. MAKETAI to Mary Priniski, Lorene Heck, Sandra Morse, and all our PACHA-PEOPLE for making the Achuar Territory in the Amazon rainforest more whole and holy as we continue to write the authentic Creation Story with passion, justice and peace.



 

 

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