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Inter-American Week for Indigenous Peoples #IndigenousPeoples

In June 2016, after 17 years of negotiation, the OAS General Assembly adopted the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The historic milestone reaffirmed the commitment of the OAS Member States to recognize, promote and protect the fundamental rights of over 70 million indigenous peoples in the hemisphere.

The American Declaration includes provisions that address the particular situation of indigenous peoples in the Americas and affirms their basic right to self-determination, education, healthcare, self-government, cultural practice, lands, territories and natural resources, as well as to gender equality for indigenous women, among other fundamental rights.

In 2017, the General Assembly adopted the Plan of Action for implementation of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2017-2021), and in 2018 the Permanent Council adopted a Resolution establishing the Inter-American Week for Indigenous Peoples, which aims to promote the traditions, languages, history, and societal contributions of indigenous peoples of the Americas. Since then, the OAS has celebrated this week around August 9 each year to coincide with the observation of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

In that vein, the OAS is highlighting the influence of indigenous peoples in shaping our societies by profiling historically renowned figures who have excelled in their national or hemispheric contribution to Arts and Culture, Sports, Politics, Human Rights, and Science or who through their labor have made a significant contribution to their nations or their region.


Luis Almagro
OAS Secretary General

Nestor Mendez
OAS Assistant Secretary General




OAS Celebrated Inter-American Week for Indigenous Peoples




Marcelo Augusto Xavier da Silva, President of the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI)



Nora Trinidad Aravena

Place of Birth: Carmen de Patagones, Provincia de Buenos Aires, Argentina
Date of Birth:
November 12, 1968

Nora Trinidad Aravena

Nora Trinidad Aravena is an Argentinean lawyer from the Monguel Mamuell Mapuche Community. She has helped to strengthen advisory services for several indigenous organizations around the country, conducting workshops in the provinces of Tucumán, Santa Fe, Salta, Jujuy, Córdoba, and Río Negro.

She is Legal Advisor to the Consejo de Desarrollo de Comunidades Indígena (Indigenous Communities Development Council-Co.De.C.I) and has taken part in several congresses on the issue, including the Forum-Round Table:  Legislation and Policy, a synthesis of national and provincial regulations, and the current state of community territories, the right to community property, access to justice, education, housing and health.

She was also a FILAC-201 Fellow: Qualified as “University Expert in Indigenous Peoples, Human Rights and International Cooperation,” and an OAS Fellow in 2009 - “The Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Inter-American System.”




Testimony of Julia Ipushima

Citizen of the Kukama Kukamiria People- Peru




Testimony of Gregoria Mariona

Citizen of the Quechua People-Peru




Testimony of Antonio Sueyo

Sage Indigenous of the Harakbut People- Peru




Testimony of Elva Sejekam

Citizen of the Awajún People- Peru




Azelene Inácio, Indigenous Brazilian of the Kaingang ethnic group





Edson de Oliveira Santos, Indigenous Brazilian Leader of the Bakairi ethnic group





Felisberto Cupudunepá, Indigenous Brazilian Leader of the Umutina ethnic group



Foster Simon

Place of Birth: St. Cuthbert's Mission, Guyana
Date of Birth:
May 6, 1953

Foster Simon

Foster Simon always enjoyed working with his hands. He has the pedigree, the patience and the passion to create art with everything he touches.

Growing up in a large, culturally oriented family also influenced Simon. His grandparents ensured that he knew the history of the community and retained a sense of pride when it came to their Arawak language.

Thus, when Foster decided to sculpt, he had enough inspiration to unearth beautiful pieces. From his early years, he had a love for art. With the help of well-known artist George Simon, he travelled to the Burrowes School of Art in Georgetown—there he was further inspired.

Although he appreciated paintings, sculpting drew his attention. Foster excelled and overtime became well known in the field. His carvings were intricate and detail oriented. He claims that he got his inspiration from his ancestors, from the forest, from the creatures of the forest and the myths and legends of his culture.

Foster belongs to the Lokono Artist Movement. Among his pieces, one is in the Bolivian Palace of Government and one is in Geneva at the UN Headquarters.  He also produced a mini totem pole for Guyana’s 50th Independence celebration.


Stephen Campbell

Place of Birth: Moruca, Guyana
Date of Birth:
December 26, 1897

Stephen Campbell

Stephen Campbell was an Arawakan Guyanese politician and political activist, and the first Amerindian member of Parliament in Guyanese history.

In 1957, he was formally inducted in the national political life. He joined the National Labor Front (NLF), and in the general elections held that year, he was the only man to gain a seat won by the NLF.  He was sworn in on September 10, 1957. As of that day, the advocacy of Amerindian rights commenced.

At his initial stage of being a legislator, Mr. Campbell highlighted the need for improved transportation in the remote interior, the expansion of agricultural production and the development of land security. He was persistent on the development of education and was also pivotal to the development of improved health facilities in Region one (1).

Today, Guyana is witnessing a continuation and intensified execution of Mr. Campbell’s work and contribution during his political tenure by the Government of Guyana as Amerindians can now access primary health care and education, road infrastructure and representation at local, regional, national and international levels.  Scholarships are granted each year to aid students in remote areas.




Cabécar Kábata Konana Indigenous Women’s Association (Protectoras del Bosque y la Montaña)

Costa Rica


Gaudencio Mejía Morales

Place of Birth: Potoichán, Copanatoyac, Guerrero State, Mexico
Date of Birth:
June 19, 1964

Gaudencio Mejía Morales

Gaudencio Mejía Morales was a Mixtec lawyer and committed defender of the rights of indigenous peoples.

In the life’s journey of this exemplary fighter for social causes what stands out are his work in the group of advisors to the San Andres Dialogues between the Mexican Government and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN); his time spent as a human rights observer for the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (1996–2001); and his collaboration in the project to strengthen and train the Ombudsperson’s Office in Ecuador (2001–2002). He also participated in countless forums, workshops, and international symposiums, where he championed struggles and resistance efforts of indigenous peoples.

He was one of the founders of the Guerrero Council–500 Years of Indigenous, Black, and Popular Resistance, as well as of the National Plural Indigenous Assembly for Autonomy (ANIPA) and, prior to his death, director of La Voz de la Montaña, an indigenous radio station.

"Never again a Mexico without indigenous peoples" is part of Gaudencio's legacy that will always live on.


Martha Sánchez Néstor

Place of Birth: Xochistlahuaca Municipality, Guerrero, Mexico
Date of Birth:
February 4, 1974

Martha Sánchez Néstor

Martha Sánchez Néstor, an Amuzga indigenous leader, was a champion and activist for human rights and for indigenous people and people of African descent, as well as for indigenous women and girls.

She founded the Women's Commission in the Guerrero Council in 1988; in 2001 pushed for passage of the Law on Indigenous Rights and Culture with constitutional status; founded the Ñe’ cwii ñ’oom Amuzga NationCouncil and the Flores de la Tierra Amuzga (Flowers of Amuzga Land) Weavers' Cooperative. She chaired the Plural Indigenous National Assembly for Autonomy and the Network of Indigenous Women of Central America and Mexico.

In 2011 she received the Women Deliver award, given to the 100 women most committed to their gender; and in 2016, Forbes Magazine Mexico included her on its list of the 100 most powerful women in that country.

With her natural born leadership, Martha Sánchez Néstor has left a legacy of work and inspiration; and of building alliances that will carry on in the lives of indigenous men, women, and girls.


Cacique Diriangen

Place of Birth: Nicaragua
Date of Birth:

Cacique Diriangen

Tapaligüe or “war captain,” Great Lord of the Dirianes, adversary to the European invaders, considered the first Amerindian chieftain who confronted the Spaniards in the territory of present-day Nicaragua.

“Man of the Heights or Highlands”: DIRIANGEN. Trained in warfare, at a very young age he earned the rank of Warrior Man, Valiant and Victorious in many battles.

In 1523 he was part of a lavish ceremony to welcome Gil González de Ávila, with a procession featuring five trumpets, 500 men each bearing turkeys, and seventeen young women covered with golden patens and with golden axes as well. He rejected the offer to be baptized. He launched an attack on the invaders – an act considered the first demonstration of rebellion against colonization.

He set himself on fire on a cliff near the Casita Volcano and with the Spaniards in pursuit, he threw himself into a den of jaguars so the invaders could not take his body as trophy.

He represents the Rebellion, Resistance, and Courage of the Nicaraguan People.


Jennifer Cassar

Place of Birth: Arima, Trinidad and Tobago
Date of Birth:
August 4, 1951

Jennifer Cassar

The late Jennifer Cassar was a descendent of full Carib ancestry, who served as Carib Queen from 2011 to 2018. The Carib Queen is a titular figure whose main role is to oversee all preparations for the Santa Rosa Festival – an annual celebration with origins in Trinidad and Tobago’s First Peoples and Catholic traditions. The Queen is an elder matron and holds the predominant leadership role in her community, who is elected for her knowledge of Carib customs and rituals, and for her ability to pass on that knowledge.

Mrs. Cassar was also a member, and, Assistant Secretary, of the Santa Rosa First Peoples Carib Community. In April 2009, she represented the group at the 3rd Indigenous Leaders Summit of the Americas, in Panama City, Panama, and, in December of that year, participated in a Seminar on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean, which was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

A cultural activist, and member of Trinidad and Tobago’s Amerindian Project Committee, Mrs. Cassar was committed to fostering a united flourishing indigenous community by encouraging those with Carib lineage to return and become more involved in advancing the development of the First Peoples community.  

Jennifer Cassar passed away on July 19, 2018, and was succeeded by Nona Lopez Calderon Galera Moreno Aquan.


Alonso Muenala Lema

Place of Birth: Peguche, Ecuador
Date of Birth:
February 8, 1933

Alonso Muenala Lema

From a very young age, Alonso Muenala Lema learned the art of textile weaving that he inherited from his father and grandfather. Thanks to this kind of family and community craftsmanship he staged exhibitions in Quito and other Ecuadorean cities, paving the way for him to become part of thrust to develop handicrafts in that country, at first through the Ecuadorian Institute of Geography and Anthropology and then at the Ecuadorian Cultural Center in the 1950s. He developed tapestry weaving using ancestral motifs and designs, and was a master textile maker, who passed on his ancestral wisdom to many of the country’s crafts people, among them the Salasaca indigenous people, who took full advantage of his wealth of knowledge.

Alonso Muenala Lema was a mindalae (trader) from very young and starting in 1959 became one of the first Otavalo Kichwas to take Otavalo textile arts to Mexico, the United States, and Europe. Alongside this pursuit, he always nurtured his musical talents and as a young man formed indigenous, Creole, and traditional music trios and ensembles, which landed him on the big performance stages in Ecuador, as well as in the United States and Europe. He died on August 8, 2020.


Elba Perez de Ezquina

Place of Birth: Municipality of Santo Domingo de Guzman, Department of Sonsonate, El Salvador
Date of Birth:
August 13, 1945

Elba Perez Vda. de Ezquina

Born into an indigenous family, her mother was a midwife and adept at natural medicine, and the knowledge she passed on to her has accompanied her throughout her life.

She is a longstanding senior figure in the National Salvadoran Indigenous Association (ANIS), the first indigenous organization in El Salvador that dates from the 1970s, of which she eventually became director. She has been recognized as a representative of the indigenous women of El Salvador in various international forums.

On September 16, 1998, as part of an act of harassment against ANIS, as a result of the campaigns waged by the Association to force the Salvadoran authorities to pay compensation to the victims of the 1983 massacre of Las Hojas, as well as for her work on issues related to land ownership, she was imprisoned along with her life partner and spiritual leader of the Association, Mr. Adrián Esquino Lisco. They were both released thanks to the prompt intervention of international organizations such as Amnesty International.

Doña Elba is a singer-songwriter in her mother tongue, Nahuat, as well as a clay artisan, a skill also handed down from her mother.

She has been a member of the indigenous peoples’ Multisectoral Roundtable since its inception and participated in the development of her country’s first public policy for indigenous peoples.


Samuel Márquez

Place of Birth: Cacaopera, Department of Morazán, El Salvador
Date of Birth:
February 17, 1989

Samuel Márquez

Using ancestral knowledge of traditional medicine, handed down through his family, his great-grandmother was a traditional healer and his grandmother a midwife and traditional healer that taught him almost everything he knows.

He began working among the aboriginal peoples, especially the Kakawira community, in 2006, doing community visits. He began to solidify the work with communities in 2012 seeking unification, recognition, and self-determination for the Lenca and Kakawira peoples and launched an effort to get the people recognized, working with young people and children in particular, for them to talk with the elders about their culture and the ancestral heritage of their people.

In 2015 he was involved in organizing consultations with the communities to draft the Kakawira indigenous municipal ordinance, which the entire municipal council and the indigenous council passed in 2019. 

As a spiritual leader, in 2012 he was recognized as an indigenous priest.

He worked on television programs in TRV in eastern El Salvador, to raise awareness about the Kakawira people. He participated in the FAO census on self-determination. Samuel Márquez is still engaged in efforts to strengthen traditional knowledge and pursuing self-determination for his people.


Tomas Ruiz

Place of Birth: Chinandega, Nicaragua
Date of Birth:
January 10, 1777

Tomás Ruiz

A Nicaraguan priest and lawyer of indigenous origin, he is regarded as an independence hero in Central America.

He began his studies at Colegio Tridentino de San Ramón in the city of Leon, Nicaragua, before going on to graduate with honors from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala, becoming the first Central American indigenous person to graduate with a university degree.

He lived in Guatemala, where he distinguished himself for his service to the independence cause. His involvement in the Central American independence process began in December 1813, when he led the famous Belen Conspiracy.

He was captured on the night of December 1 and imprisoned for five years. Upon his release in 1819, he moved to San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, where he eventually died as a result of the mistreatment and torture he suffered during his incarceration. His burial place is unknown.


Florencio Mes

Place of Birth: Toledo, Belize
Date of Birth:
February 23, 1938

Florencio Mes

Florencio Mes is a Mayan harpist and traditional musician from Belize.

During most of his childhood he grew up under care of his elder brother in San Pedro Columbia, where he currently resides.

During his youth, young Florencio enjoyed the village fiestas. He recalls seeing Mr. Fernando Ash, fingers moving a traditional harp as a festive crowd danced to its reverberating sounds.

It took six years of apprenticeship for Florencio to acquire the skills of the revered harp musician. He first learnt the bass, then the guitar, thereafter the violin and finally the harp itself.

Florencio founded his first group with Martin Coc on violin, Valentino Teul on bass, the late Francisco Sam on guitar and Florencio himself on harp.

Florencio is now the undisputed musician for the village fiestas. His unique aura of constructing, playing and dancing the harp has made Florencio locally and internationally recognized. He has become an icon and master of Maya harp music, captivating a large audience at the local, national, and international level.


Julian Armando Cho

Place of Birth: San Jose, Belize
Date of Birth:
April 6, 1962

Julian Armando Cho

Julian Armando Cho was a Belizean indigenous rights advocate. He joined the Toledo Maya Cultural Council (TMCC), a group working for the indigenous people of the Toledo District and was a force for indigenous rights. Julian also mobilized his people into functional groups, inspiring the formation of The Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA), and the Toledo Maya Women’s Council.

On December 3rd 1995, he led a peaceful demonstration march to voice the indigenous people concerns over the granting of logging concessions on indigenous lands.

He was able to mobilize and influence communities and develop strong affiliation with the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC) which enabled him to effectively present the indigenous agenda to Belize and initiated the production of a Maya Atlas.

On November 25th 1998, the government of Belize signed a Memorandum of Understanding to negotiate a solution to the Maya land rights struggle.

Cho’s untimely death in December, 1998 was a huge loss to the Maya people and to the environment of southern Belize. He was posthumously awarded the James A. Waight Conservation Award for his tireless efforts.




José Francisco Calí Tzay

Embajador (Guatemala)
Relator Especial de las Naciones Unidas sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas.


Celio Efraín López

Place of Birth: San Salvador, El Salvador
Date of Birth:
December 23, 1962

Celio Efraín López

Celio Efraín López was born on December 23, 1962 to a family of Moors and Christian dancers from San Antonio Abad.

Since 1981, he has dedicated himself to the study and research of the dances of Moors and Christians, and two years later he began teaching them and, to date has continued to do so.

Since then, the native people of San Antonio Abad have recognized him as the new teacher of the traditional dances of the town, which include children, young people and older adults. He is well known for the carving of indigenous masks, turbans and musical instruments, and has been recognized both nationally and internationally for his skill.

He is a teacher of the following dances: Moros y Cristianos, Torito Pinto, Cuche de Monte, Danza El Venadito, and Pastorelas.

He is dedicated to teaching the new generation the art forms of dance and mask making.




"Mama" Martha Cabrera Cabrera

Jatun Ayllu Yura Parcialudad Urinsaya Wisijsa
Nación Qhara Qhara (Potosi, Bolivia).


Fernando Daquilema

Place of Birth: Chimborazo, Ecuador
Date of Birth:
June 5, 1848

Fernando Daquilema

Fernando Daquilema was an important indigenous leader of the Puruhá people, of Ecuador.  At the young age of twenty-three, he fought for the rights of indigenous peoples and was one of the most important figures in the indigenous rebellion of Chimborazo in 1871.

During that time there were large estates where many indigenous people labored and were overexploited through subsidiary work and forced to work in the public sphere without remuneration. They were also obligated to provide tithes and first fruits. In this context, the Puruhá community of Chimborazo organized itself, and through collective decisions began the indigenous uprising of 1871, led by Fernando Daquilema. The indigenous mobilization began in the community of Cacha and spread to other areas, forming an army with thousands of women and men who confronted the government of García Moreno. The repression by the National Guard caused a violent confrontation.

Fernando Daquilema died after he was shot in Yaruquí Central Square on April 8, 1872. Thus, the struggle, tenacity and courage of Daquilema has become a historical reference for advancements for indigenous communities.


Heritage Minute: Kenojuak Ashevak

A founding member of Cape Dorset’s famed printmaking co-op, Kenojuak Ashevak introduced Inuit art to the world (1927-2013).

Heritage Minute courtesy of Historica Canada
(English | Français).


Miguel Tankamash

Place of Birth: Arapicos, cantón Morona, Ecuador
Date of Birth:
October 29, 1939

Miguel Tankamash

Miguel Tankamash hailed from Arapicos, Morona Canton, from the town of Palora in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

He was a leader of the Shuar Nationality who became a symbol of struggle, resistance and courage. Tankamash founded the Interprovincial Federation of Shuar Centers (FICSH), as well as the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE) and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)

Miguel Tankamash played a fundamental role for the Amazon peoples to become engaged in the political, economic and social sphere of the Ecuadorian State. His struggle became an example for other nationalities and indigenous organizations.

His loyalty and firmness when called upon to defend his nationality were among his essential traits. His leadership as the first president of CONAIE allowed him to advance in the fight to recognize and to guarantee the rights of the peoples and nationalities of Ecuador.

Miguel Tankamash passed away on October 27, 2018.




Ricardo Delgado

Indigenous Pemón ethnic group from Gran Sabana, Bolívar, Venezuela.


Alonso García Quele

Place of Birth: Izalco, Sonsonate, El Salvador
Date of Birth:
January 23, 1953

Alonso García Quele

Since 1991, Alonso Garcia Quele has served as a steward and elder of the indigenous community of Izalco as a result of the Consuetudinary Law, which has been passed on within indigenous communities through the elderly brotherhood.

He was part of the Izalco Cultural Rescue Committee, where he dedicated himself to the recovery of the elderly brotherhood and the Communal City Hall, the only form of traditional government that is preserved from the indigenous community today.

In April 2001 he was appointed Steward of the Greater Brotherhood of the Eternal Father, where he has restored the Seed Ritual, namely the Blessing and the Harvest Ceremony.

In his role as Mayor of the Izalco Indigenous Community, he strives for the unity of the indigenous community, acting as a mediator in conflicts that arise.

He has compiled and transmitted the oral tradition of his people, the events of 1932 and the indigenous uprising.

In 2006 he was part of a committee of noteworthy individuals, both nationals and foreigners, in the formation of the "National Commission for the Establishment of Historical Truth of the 1932 Genocide".


Benito Pablo Juárez García

Place of Birth: San Pablo Guelatao, Oaxaca state, Mexico
Date of Birth:
March 21, 1806

Benito Pablo Juárez García

Benito Pablo Juárez García was a distinguished Zapotec indigenous, Mexican politician and lawyer.

As Governor of Oaxaca, Benito Juárez underscored the customs of governments and of the region. As President of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, he defended the Constitution of 1857; subsequently he held the Presidency of Mexico from 1858 to 1872, a period in which he promoted the Reform Laws, and the foundation on which the secular State and the Federal Republic in Mexico are founded.

Also known as the Benemeritusof the Americas, for his fight against the French invasion, Benito Juárez adopted the foreign policy principles of the defence of national sovereignty: the people’s right to self-determination; the equality of states; foreign non-intervention, through his wise words: "Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace."

In historiography, he is recognized as the principal figure of 19th century Mexican liberalism.




Amalia Tello Torralba

Originally from San Martín Duraznos, Juxtlahuaca, Oaxaca, Mexico. She is a member of the Civil Association Naxihi na xinxe na xihi ("Women in Defense of Women").


Ologwagdi (Armando José Díaz Rivera)

Place of Birth: Colon, Panama
Date of Birth:
June 17, 1953

Ologwagdi (Armando José Díaz Rivera)

A member of the Guna ethnic group, Ologwagdi is a visual artist, portraitist, cartoonist and illustrator, with an artistic career of 53 years and specialization in children's and youth art.

Since 1972, he has produced a large catalogue of drawings of texts, poems, stories, book and magazine cover designs, both nationally and internationally. Ologwadgi has received 14 awards in painting, crafts, posters and illustrations for children and youth books.

He was selected by the Ministry of Education to artistically interpret the necessary modifications to the National Coat of Arms of the Republic of Panama, creating the reference coat of arms to coincide with the original from 1904. On November 2019, he was appointed as an art expert in the National Commission on National Symbols.

He is a cultural activist and a promoter of Guna children's art.




Vladimir Inuma

Shipibo-Konibo indigenous community leader, Cantagallo, Peru.




Alejandro Neyra Sánchez

Minister of Culture of Peru.




Patricia Velásquez

OAS Goodwill Ambassador for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.