Terence Freitas

By Jordan Tribble

Posted on November 4, 2016 at 12:23am PDT

         With world attention on the showdown between indigenous Lakota Sioux at Standing Rock, in the Dakotas, few know about a showdown between indigenous people and a petroleum company that happened in 1999.  Three people died fighting against the oil company. Here are their stories.

       Terry Freitas’ death, at the age of 24, put an end to his extraordinary odyssey that took him from his home in Los Angeles to the cloud forests of the Andes to the boardroom of one of the oil industry’s most powerful corporations.

      Freitas became a pivotal figure in an international campaign on behalf of the U’wa –- a small Colombian tribe whose battle to stop Occidental from proceeding with oil exploration on its land has drawn global attention since 1995, when the tribe threatened to commit mass suicide if the company persisted with its plans. He was, in the words of one co-worker, "almost this young god in the movement."


Laha’ena’e Gay

       For those who knew her, it was no surprise Gay, 41, would be active here and elsewhere in issues involving indigenous peoples. She was the great-granddaughter of Francis Gay, a co-founder of Kauai's Gay & Robinson sugar plantation who married a woman descended from Maui's King Kahekili; and the granddaughter of Ernest Gay Sr., a touring opera singer who lived in Hana for many years and was a close friend of Hotel Hana-Maui founder Paul Fagin.

     "Her grandfather called her a volcano because you never knew when she would erupt," said Jeannie Pechin, a Hana resident. "She always had a cause, even when she was a little girl."

      Maui developer Michael Spalding remembers her as a woman committed to the Hawaiian culture, with confidence in herself and her dreams.

     "She didn't have any limit," he said. "She had a very big envelope in her ability to do stuff.

      "She was a great spunky girl. She was very beautiful -- when you'd see her, she'd take your breath away. She had charisma. Life wasn't cherries for her. It was passionate."

     On the Big Island, Gay started the Pacific Cultural Conservancy International as a way to help "preserve the old ways" worldwide, according to Livingstone. Her father Ernest, a former freelance photojournalist with Time-Life, said she had the qualities to be a bridge between indigenous peoples, corporate executives and members of foundation boards.

     "She was able to deal with many people in so many different worlds," he said.

     Gay went to Colombia at the request of the U'wa, a tribe of 8,000 people in the Arauco region who were fighting the presence of rebel groups, the government and oil interests on their land. Her purpose was to help establish a school system sensitive to the native culture and free of government and missionary influences.

     "The U'wa -- being very independent and culturally strong -- were interested in learning to read and write, but they didn't want their children to become mission students, and Lahe had had some success in other countries," said Melina Selverston, former director of the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Amazonian Peoples and the Environment.


Ingrid Washinawatok

     "Ingrid was known as a tireless defender of the rights of Indigenous peoples," states Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ingrid was forty-one years old, a wife and mother of a 14-year-old son. During her life Ingrid was the Chair of the NGO Committee on the United Nations International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, delegate for the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights, NGO representative in consultative status to the UN for the International Indian Treaty Council and a member of the UN’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Ingrid also served as the executive director of the Fund for the Four Directions, chair of Native Americans in Philanthropy, co-chair of the Indigenous Women’s Network, board member of the AICH, Sister Fund, National Network of Grantmakers and on the selection committee for the Letelier Moffit Human Rights Award.


     On February 25, 1999 three Americans were kidnapped in a Colombian rain forest and found dead a few days later just over the border of Venezuela. The victims were later identified as 24 year old Terence Freitas, 41 year old Laha’ena’e Gay, and 39 year old Ingrid Washinawatok. They were members of a group trying to preserve an indigenous tribe threatened by oil exploration. They traveled to Colombia to study the conditions of the Uwa Indians in their community. Authorities claimed that they were abducted by leftist guerrillas who uses their ransom money for their military tactics.