Pan-Indianism and Indigenous Organizations in Ecuador

Prepared for delivery at Indigenous Peoples: An International Symposium, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, April 8-9, 1997.


As in the rest of Latin America, Ecuadorians have viewed the aboriginal inhabitants of their country as simply "Indians." The presence of ten distinct ethnic groups which remain in Ecuador and the fact that the sense of place has been local rather than regional or national, however, challenges this label. Nevertheless, recent organizational actions in Ecuador have relied on a sense of group identity that transcended narrow tribal categories. There has been, however, little study of the historical development of this pan-Indian consciousness. In the context of the United States, Hertzberg and Cornell have looked at how a supra-tribal 'Indian" identity emerged in the United States out of such factors as the boarding school movement, urbanization, changes in federal government policy, imposition of the English language, and inter-tribal marriages. Pan-Indian organizations, such as the early twentieth-century Society of American Indians, emerged out of urban, elite Indian professionals who had largely become separated from their tribal roots. Arguably, similar factors are also at work in Ecuador. Often pan-Indian organizations in Ecuador are directed by people who went to Quito to study or otherwise had extensive contact with the dominant Spanish culture. Understanding these roots of inter-tribal contacts and a pan-ethnic identity is important because it indicates whether Indian nationalism is a function of contact with western notions of state formation, or whether it grows out of Indigenous forms of social organization. Furthermore, it is important to ask whether these movements are led by organic intellectuals who truly represent Indigenous concerns or whether over the years urban-based Indigenous leaders have become divorced from local Indigenous realities. To what extent to elite leaders remain representative of group issues, and are smaller Indigenous groups being marginalized in an ethnic discourse which is dominated by the numerically superior Quichua population?

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