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22 Indigenous Rights Fighters From Latin America To Keep In Mind While You Celebrate Women’s History Month

No look back at Latino culture and history could be complete without a thorough investigation of the various Indigenous women who existed long before and after the Spanish colonized the Americas. In the many years before Spanish colonization, Indigenous women were FIERCE chiefs, warriors, leaders and rule breakers. Today, they still are. Here’s a list of the 25 Indigenous women who shaped Latin America and contributed to the world we know.

1. Janequeo, Peru

Also, known as Yanequén, was a heroine of the Mapuche-Pehuenche people and the wife of the chief, Huepotaén. After her husband’s murder, which was ordered by Governor Alonso de Sotomayor, Janequeo succeeded him as lonco and led her people in battles against the Spanish.

2. Emilia Nuyado, Chile

Nuyado is a political leader of the indigenous Mapuche group and one of two women of that group to become members of Chile’s Congress. She represents the southern Araucanía region and is working with the Chilean government to put an end to a centuries-old conflict.

3. Aracely Leuquén, Chile

Like Nuyado, Leuquén is also a political leader representative of the indigenous Mapuche group. Along with Nuyado she is the first woman to become a member of Chile’s Congress.

4. Milagro Sala, Argentina

The Indigenous leader from Argentina is considered the first political prisoner of President Mauricio Macri’s government. She is the founder of the 70,000 member group called the Tupac Amaru movement and leads the organization in efforts focused on Indigenous rights and impacting political issues.

5. Silvia Carrera, Panama

As the first woman chief of the Ngobe Bugl, Carrera led a resistance movement that worked to block hydroelectric dam and copper mining projects being built on an Indigenous territory. Throughout her activism, she has strived to negotiate with the Panamanian government and to represent her people in talks concerning respect for Indigenous rights. Today she is seen as a symbol of resistance for women across Panama and Latin America.

6. Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic, Guatemala

The Guatemalan Maya K’iche leader is a defender of women’s rights and environmental causes.  Today, she is a leader of the Council of K’iche’ Peoples in Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Earth and Territory and fights for the right of indigenous people to determine the fate of their territories.

7. Miriam Miranda, Honduras

The leader of the Garifuna Afro-Indigenous community and the organization known as Ofraneh is known for her activism. Her resistance has combatted mega-tourism projects and the climate change effects that have displaced Garifuna communities along the Honduran coast.

8. Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemala

The Guatemalan human rights activist began campaigning for human rights when she was a teen. In the years since she has devoted her life’s work to fighting for the rights of indigenous people and victims of Guatemala’s civil war.

9. Berta Caceres, Honduras

The Lenca indigenous leader and environmental and human rights defender is also the co-founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Her work has helped her and others to spearhead a successful resistance movement to halt the creation of the Agua Zarca Dam. Before and during its construction the project was never given consent by the local indigenous community. Caceres was murdered in 2016 because of her activism.

10. Transito Amaguaña, Ecuador

Transito Amaguaña, AKA “Mama Transito,” was an Ecuadorean indigenous activist and feminist icon in Ecuador. Her political work and community activism has pushed the efforts of major indigenous and campesino actions further. In 11946 she co-founded the Ecuadorean Indian Federation to fight for land redistribution.

11.  Digna Ochoa, Mexico 

The human rights lawyer and political activist advocated for the interests of Mexico’s campesino ecologists and vulnerable indigenous people. She took on the Mexican army and led campaigns that eventually and brought soldiers who had abused their power and tortured others to court. She was eventually found shot dead in her office.

11. Dolores Cacuango, Ecuador

The native rights leader and Ecuadorean revolutionary began an early life of servitude on a hacienda as a teen. Realizing the difference in the quality of life between the rich and poor pushed her to advocacy that focused on education, native lands rights, and government reform in recognition of indigenous people. Despite never reaching higher education, Cacuango directed one of the first schools for indigenous children with instruction in Spanish and Quechua for 18 years.

12. María Jesús Alvarado Rivera, Peru

Rivera was a journalist, teacher, and activist from Chincha Alta, Peru who spent her life focused on the empowerment of women through activism and political representation. Her advocacy focused sexual health, sex worker rights, and indigenous land rights.

13. Blanca Chancoso, Ecuador

The Indigenous leader founded the Confederación de los Pueblos de la Nacionalidad Kichua del Ecuador, the group organized the first assembly for indigenous women. Her work contributed to the ousting of President Adbalá Bucaram. Today she continues her fight for indigenous rights. In 2015, open letter to Evo Morales she wrote: “You should remember that those who occupy the presidential office will one day be replaced… Correa’s term will one day end, but the indigenous communities will always be here…”

14. Ana de Peralta, Ecuador

Ana de Peralta was the first woman to protest a Spanish law that kept mestizas from wearing indigenous and Spanish clothing. The law “The Royal Charter of 1752″ was issued by the King and Queen of Spain and said wearing such clothing made “mujeres de mal vivir.”

15. Juana Azurduy de Padilla, Bolivia

De Padilla was a Mestiza by ethnicity and therefore had both Spanish and indigenous ancestry. The revolutionary led a military life and career and fought for Bolivia independence. Simon Bolivar, the namesake of Bolivia, once said the country should have actually been named after her. 

16. Micaela Bastidas, Peru

The partner of Tupac Amaru helped lead the Tupac Amaru Rebellion involving native peoples against the Spanish. In her role, she managed an army and was seen as a pioneer of Peruvian independence. 

17. Iara, Brazil

Iara was a legend and never a real woman who walked this world. However, her legend and story are an important part of Latin American folklore. The legend of Iara came out of Brazil and is based on ancient Tupi and Guaraní mythology. 

18. X’tabay

This sex-positive story of a Mayan enchantress is also part of a Mayan legend. Still, her story of seduction acts as a fascinating indigenous version the Madonna/whore concept.

19. Eréndira, Mexico

Eréndira was a princess of the Purépecha people who led an uprising against Spanish militants during the 1500s. The image above actually isn’t a depiction of Eréndira, but of the Purépecha she belonged to.

20. Patricia Velásquez, Venezuela

The actress and model is also the founder of the Wayúu Tayá Foundation. She is celebrated by many who consider her to be the first Native American model. Her father is mestizo and her mother was born into the indigenous Wayuu people. As an out lesbian, he is also a staunch LGBTQ advocate.

21. Lido Pimienta

The queer Afro-Colombiana of Wayuu descent is a Colombian Canadian musician and singer. Her song “La Papessa,” won the $50,000 2017 Polaris Music Prize in 2017.

22. Malinche, Mexico

The Nahua woman played an influential role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Emire and is viewed as a controversial figure throughout Latin America. She was sold into sexual slavery as a young woman and became an interpreter. Some view her as a person who saved her people from the Aztecs who occupied her home, others blame her for betraying the indigenous people by helping colonizers. Either way, there’s no doubting that her influence helped to the Aztec Empire’s fall

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