world tradejourney into amazonia


Levels of Life:
in the Rainforest

Broom Forest:
A Tall Trees Simulation

Soil in the Amazon

The Rainforest, Raw
Materials, and You

Chico Mendes of Brazil

World Trade Protests:
Why All the Fuss?

Be an Amazon Activist

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  • Background
  • Objectives
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  • Assessment
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  • Related National Standards

    Grade Level: 10-12

    Estimated Time: At least two class periods

    Conflict about control of resources in the rainforest is played out every day all over the world. In November 1999 in Seattle, Washington, environmentalists gathered outside the World Trade Organization meeting to protest oil drilling by Occidental Petroleum on ancestral land of the U'wa tribe in the South American country of Colombia. The U'wa tribe has requested that the Colombian Ministry of the Environment deny Occidental's request for a drilling permit. In this lesson, students will stage a mock court hearing about this issue.

    Summary of Mock Court Hearing Plaintiffs and Defendants

    • Occidental Petroleum
      multinational oil company headquartered in California
    • U'wa tribe
      people indigenous to northeastern Colombia American consumers individuals and corporations that use oil products (like gasoline) in their daily lives
    • Environmental activists
      international community of activists that advocate positive environmental change and development (such as Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network)
    • Colombian Ministry
      branch of the Colombian government that is responsible for issuing of the Environment oil drilling permits on land within their country


    1. Students will be able to identify five key groups that are involved in the dispute over rainforest oil in Colombia.
    2. Students will conduct group research on the role of one of these groups, and determine whether or not this group would be for or against a permit to begin drilling for oil on U'wa land.
    3. Students will present their group's opinion at a mock court hearing in response to this question, "Should the Colombian Ministry of the Environment grant Occidental Petroleum a permit to allow them to drill for oil on U'wa land in Colombia?"


    • Access to computer and the internet (search engines) OR access to current periodicals
    • Five posterboards for making signs to identify each group (Occidental Petroleum, American consumers, U'wa Tribal Council, Environmental Activists, Colombian Ministry of the Environment)
    • "Journey To Amazonia" video


    1. Ask students what they need to survive. Elicit answers to list on a blackboard or transparency.

    2. Play a segment from "Journey To Amazonia."

      Video Clip:
      Episode 2, "Life On Land" 00:47: "The cycle of birth and regeneration is re-enacted daily by millions of plants and animals. Plants and animals are bound by mutual advantage. They give each other the most precious of gifts. That is the gift of life itself." (Many indigenous peoples derive what they need to live from the forest, and the human cycle of family growth has taken place in the forest for many years. Their existence is sometimes threatened by global development).

      Then ask students to consider what indigenous people living in the rainforest need to survive. Compare students' answers to the answers they gave about their needs at the beginning of this activity. (Do this is a large group brainstorming or with a partner). Inform students that many people in the world consider land to be necessary for their survival, almost like shelter, especially if the land has been in their family for generations. Indigenous people who live in the rainforest consider it necessary for their survival as a cultural group.

    3. Inform students that there are many people in the world who are in danger of losing the right to live freely on the land they have inhabited for generations. One such people are the U'wa of the Colombian rainforest. On one hand, the U'wa claim that they should be allowed to control how the land is used, because their ancestors have lived there so long. On the other hand, oil companies and government officials argue that the oil reserves in the Colombian rainforest could generate a lot of money for Colombia, and are needed by consumers around the world.

    4. Students are going to be plaintiffs and defendants in a mock court hearing that will decide whether or not the U'wa people of Colombia will be able to keep living on the land that helps them survive in the Amazon rainforest.

    5. Arrange student groups and have a leader choose random placards to determine which group they will research. Have students share the names of their groups and list on board or overhead. Make sure they are aware of the situation and the other groups involved.

    6. Instructions for students: They must represent their group to the Colombian Ministry of the Environment and plead their case. Advise students to research the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of their group's position. Ask them to predict whether their group would or would not support oil drilling on the U'wa land in Colombia. How will drilling affect their group? Students must be able to support and argue for or against the case.

    7. Allow a class period for research. If necessary, the teacher may assist in brainstorming and skills for using a search engine like search terms and keywords. The sites listed below will be good places to start in your search for information.

    8. Imitate a court hearing where four groups inform the rest of the class about their group's position. They must plead their case to the Colombian Ministry of the Environment group, who must make a decision about whether the permit will be granted.

    Assessment Recommendations
    Have students evaluate fellow group members' participation in the research and the court hearing. Ask each group to prepare a list of "who did what" following the hearing. If the hearing was videotaped, use the tape to help evaluate the students' performance and participation.

    Extension Activities

    1. Write a position paper or speech agreeing or disagreeing with this statement, "The Colombian Minister of the Environment should grant drilling rights to Occidental Petroleum On U'wa land."
    2. Videotape the court proceedings.
    3. Ask students to do research on events that have happened regarding the U'wa tribe since September 1999. Has drilling begun yet? Has there been any violence in the area? Had Occidental Petroleum issued any public press releases about this issue?
    4. Ask students if they can think of any other indigenous peoples that have been displaced. How about in the mainland United States? If so, what happened to them? What resources were in demand (oil, gold, etc.)? (Teachers may want to obtain a video from this online resource: and have students compare and contrast the U'wa and Native American experiences. Teachers may want to focus on an Indian tribe that has its history in the local area.)

    Other Resources

    Related National Standards

      World History

    • Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world


    • Understand that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places an regions
    • Understands the patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface
    • Understands the pattern of human settlement and their causes
    • Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface
    • Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
    • Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance or resources
    • Understands global development and environmental issues
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    Journey into Amazonia
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