TODAY | May 03, 2013
>>> now to one of the most remote and pristine places on the planet and a battle brewing over oil, with the story here is nbc 's ann curry .
>> reporter: deep in ecuador 's lush amazon rain forest the most biodiverse place on earth the rarely seen tribes are sharpening their spears and preparing their blow guns to fight ecuador 's new plan to auction as much as 8 million acres of the rain forest for oil drilling . a tbal leader sings "we are not going to lose our culture. we are going to protect our land." boston university biology professor kelly swing has come to know the riches of the rain forest after researching here for more than 20 years.
>> there may be one-tenth of all the species on the planet that is the space the size of south carolina .
>> reporter: he's come to know the tribesmen who he says will fight to the death to protect this land, and he says america, a top importer of oil from ecuador shares responsibility for this coming conflict.
>> we're definitely guilty in this story.
>> reporter: and the toxic legacy of past oil drilling in other parts of the rain forest . smells pretty bad. i understand that more oil has been spilled here than in the exxon "valdez" disaster in alaska.
>> we're talking about hundreds of small spills that add up to a huge amount.
>> reporter: another tribe has been told to expect oil operations to begin at any time. angry women say they will fight with their men because they believe their purpose in life is to save the forest. a tribal leader and shaman heal per
>> my grandfather protect this land and up to this, my father said me, you need to protect. if i am leaving, i am going to fight, my community.
>> reporter: as long as you're alive you're going to fight for your community.
>> reporter: you feel so strongly.
>> yes. i'm sorry.
>> reporter: he see no, sir difference between t survival of the forest and the survival of his people. the drilling is being ordered by the government of ecuador , which depends on amazon oil for up to 50% of its revenues. ecuador 's vice president.
>> translator: if ecuador were in a position to provide for all of the needs of its people, we will be happy not to exploit. however, that is not the case.
>> so if confronted with indigenous people with spears, would ecuador use force?
>> translator: according to international law , if dialogue fails, there is a process of escalation of the use of force .
>> reporter: in this battle of blow guns against bull dosers the kichwa and rowani are outmatched, professor kelly says this is about more than saving the rain forest .
>> i see this as a human rights issue. i think it's very sad to say that most human rights issues don't really come to be recognized as human rights issues until people start to die.
>> reporter: ann curry , nbc news, ecuador .
>> you can see more tonight on "center center with brian williams " at 10:00 , 9:00 central time right here on nbc .