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News > Culture

10 Latin American Indigenous Rights Warriors You Need to Know

  • Indigenous activists of Latin America

    Indigenous activists of Latin America | Photo: Creative Commons

Published 9 May 2016

These Indigenous human rights and environmental activists are making waves in Latin America and beyond.

World's Indigenous to Demand More Peace and Rights at UN Forum

Indigenous leaders around the world are on the front-lines of struggle against corporate exploitation, resource extraction, neoliberal policies, and other injustices impacting people and the environment.

Here’s a look at some of the most prominent Indigenous leaders fighting for justice and human rights in Latin America.

1. Miriam Miranda, Honduran Garifuna Leader

Miriam Miranda is a leader of Garifuna Afro-Indigenous community and the organization known as Ofraneh, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras. She is renowned for her activism resisting mega-tourism projects, the expansion of African palm monocultures, and market-based “false solutions” to climate change displacing Garifuna communities along the Honduran coast as part of a fight for Garifuna survival, self-determination, and food sovereignty.

2. Maxima Acuña, Peruvian Campesina

Maxima Acuña is a Peruvian subsistence farmer who has successfully taken on U.S. mining giant Newmont in a tireless fight for land and livelihood. Acuña’s resistance, recognized with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize this year, has become an iconic David and Goliath tale after she managed to for halt Newmont’s plans to open a US$4.8 billion open-pit gold and copper mine in the area. Despite her legal win, Acuña continues to face threats and harassment for her activism.

3. Marcos Terena, Brazilian Trailblazer

Marcos Terena is a Xane leader from Brazil who has spearheaded multiple initiatives to advance the rights of Indigenous people in his home country and around the world. He founded Brazil’s first Indigenous political movement, the Union of Indigenous Nations, organized historic global events, and fought for the inclusion of Indigenous rights in the Brazilian constitution.

4. Milagro Sala, Argentine Political Prisoner

Milagro Sala is an Indigenous leader in Argentina, considered to be the first political prisoner of President Mauricio Macri’s government. She founded and leads the Tupac Amaru movement, a 70,000-strong organization focused on Indigenous rights and other political issues. Sala is also a lawmaker with Parlasur and a member of other political and labor organizations.

5. Feliciano Valencia, Colombian Peace Activist

Feliciano Valencia is a Colombian community leader and winner of the 2000 National Peace Award. The activist was arrested last year despite the Indigenous rights to legal jurisdiction over their territories in Colombia, and his capture became a symbol of the systematic repression suffered by Indigenous movements in the country. Valencia has dedicated his life to fighting for Indigenous rights and supporting the path toward peace.

6. Silvia Carrera, Panamanian History-Maker

Silvia Carrera is the first woman chief of the Ngobe Bugle and the leader of a resistance movements to block unwanted hydroelectric dam and copper mining projects on Indigenous territory. She has represented her people in negotiating with the government for respect for Indigenous rights and self-determination and has become a symbol of dignity and inspiration for Indigenous women in Panama and across Latin America.

7. Humberto Piaguaje, Ecuadorean Chevron-Challenger

Humberto Piaguaje is a leader of the Secoya Indigenous group of Ecuador and has been an important figure in the fight against the the U.S. energy giant Chevron and its corporate cover-up of a massive oil spill in the Ecuadorean Amazon. He has long championed the fight of the Secoya people against Chevron, formerly Texaco, and slammed the corporation for human rights abuses and falsified evidence in the court battle.

8. Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic, Guatemalan Feminist

Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic is a Guatemalan Maya K’iche leader and defender of the rights of women and the environment. She is a leader of the Council of K’iche’ Peoples in Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Earth and Territory and has fought for the Indigenous right to self-determination over their territories with a focus on the role of women in the movement against resource extraction. She has suffered attacks and threats for her activism.

9. Oscar Olivera, Bolivian Water Warrior

Oscar Olivera was key leader in the so-called Cochabamba Water Wars against the privatization of water in Bolivia between 1999 and 2000. He won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2001 and is now an important leader in protests related to the Bolivian gas conflict.

10. Nestora Salgado, Former Mexican Political Prisoner

Nestora Salgado is a Mexican community leader who spent more than two years in jail for her activism organizing autonomous police forces in the state of Guerrero to combat drug cartels and state complicity in rampant violence. She was freed earlier this year and has vowed to fight for the rights of other political prisoners in Mexico.

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