Indigenous Peoples in Ecuador
by Mara Precoma
The Indigenous population of Ecuador counts approximately 1.1 million people out of a total population of 17 million inhabitants. There are 14 Indigenous nationalities which are grouped into local, regional and national organizations. Two Rivers Reserve is located in the Kichwa community.
The history of Native Ecuadorians spans roughly 11,000 years. Evidence suggests that humans settled in the coastal and Andes region before they settled in the Amazon region. Nowadays, the majority of Indigenous peoples lives in the Central-North mountains, most of them in rural areas. Around 24% of the Indigenous population lives in the Amazon area. Across the country, Indigenous nationalities with just a few hundred members exist. These communities find themselves in especially vulnerable positions as they lack economic and political power.
Ecuador has made theoretical steps towards the recognition and protection of its Native population. It ratified the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention in 1989, voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, and included the idea of a plurinational and intercultural Ecuador in its 2008 Constitution. In reality, however, civil, political, cultural and territorial rights are not fully respected and enforcement of policies is lacking. The introduction of neoliberal politics which favor private enterprise, extractive industries and US-American foreign policy under Donald Trump has put the Indigenous population in an unfortunate situation. Importantly, all of this is taking place against the backdrop of a colonial history during which Indigenous peoples experienced enslavement, abuse and exploitation, and whose legacy lasts until today.
Some of the main challenges which Indigenous peoples are currently facing concern natural resource exploitation and large-scale mining activities. Both disturb and harm Indigenous lands and ecologically fragile areas, leading to existential concerns with regard to self-determination, health, cultural practices and sources of income. While these are some of the most visible and internationally covered struggles experienced by the Indigenous population, they are by far the only ones.
Latin America has the widest gap of income inequality in the world. In Ecuador (and many other countries), Indigenous peoples are most likely to be disadvantaged and to live in poverty. The percent of Indigenous who are poor is 4.5 times that of the non-Indigenous population. Being poor is highly correlated with low levels of educational attainment. Indigenous adults have received an average of 4.5 years of formal education whereas non-Indigenous adults’ formal education average amounts to 8 years. Differences in education lead to differences in human capital attainment, which, combined with discrimination, explains the earning gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Knowing that differences in education translate into differences in wages and living standards, Two Rivers Reserve aims to equalize educational opportunities for local children. One of the many projects which volunteers and interns can engage in is teaching local school children basic English and science.
Another area where the Indigenous population experiences disadvantages concerns health services. Even though these continue to improve, access to mainstream and emergency healthcare is still limited, especially for rural populations in the Andes and Amazon regions. In partnership with volunteers and interns, Two Rivers Reserve tries to offer health and wellness activities such as first aid classes or dental checkups to the local population whenever possible.
Despite many challenges, Ecuador’s Indigenous population continues to fight socio-political disadvantages, discrimination and exploitation. 2019 was marked by anti-government protests and demonstrations which denounced the national government’s economic policies. In the fall of 2019, Indigenous mobilization peaked and was met with violent action by repressive forces, in particular the police. At a time when racism and police brutality is receiving unmatched media attention, we would be well advised to pay more attention to the struggles and resistance of Indigenous peoples in Latin America and all over the world as well. Two Rivers Reserve acknowledges that listening to and learning from Indigenous voices is one of the most important steps towards the liberation of the Indigenous population. We celebrate Indigenous cultural expression and support the battle for Indigenous rights and rights implementation.
“Ecuador.” Minority Rights Group International, 2018, minorityrights.org/country/ecuador/.
García-Aracil, Adela, and Carolyn Winter. “Gender and Ethnicity Differentials in School Attainment and Labor Market Earnings in Ecuador.” World Development, vol. 34, no. 2, 2006, pp. 289-307.
Mamo, Dwayne, editor. “Ecuador.” The Indigenous World 2020, 34th edition, The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 2020, pp. 396-409.
“World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – Ecuador.” Refworld, 2018, www.refworld.org/docid/4954ce3223.html.
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This page is happy to have many authors! From some of the Two Rivers' staff to our lovely volunteer interns. WE hope we can see Ecuador in as many perspectives as there are trees in the Amazon.