Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan

(1986, Peru)

...for organising to protect the rights of the Indians of the Amazon basin.

About

Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan became a leader of the Aguaruna people of Peru and has devoted himself to organising the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin in order to uphold their human, civil, economic and political rights. In 1977, he was one of the founders of the Aguaruna and Huambisa Council (CAH), which represented 45,000 inhabitants of 140 communities in the tropical forest region. Developing alternative methods of land protection, human development, health care and education, the Council became one of the most effective indigenous organisations in South America.

Contact Details

Consejo Aguaruna y Huambisa
Jr Los Mogaburos 245
dpto 201 Jesus Maria
Lima 11
PERU

Biography

Since the European invasion of South America in the 16th century, the indigenous peoples, and especially those of the Amazon, were confronted with various 'civilising' forces, which brought the destruction of their lands, resources, cultures and rights, and even individual or mass killings. On the threshold of the 21st century, this reality still continues in different forms, using violent or subtle methods according to the country concerned.

In this context, Evaristo Nugkuag Ikanan became a leader of the Aguaruna people of Peru and has devoted himself to organising the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin in order to uphold their human, civil, economic and political rights. In 1977, he was one of the founders of the Aguaruna and Huambisa Council (CAH), which represented 45,000 inhabitants of 140 communities in the tropical forest region. Developing alternative methods of land protection, human development, health care and education, the Council became one of the most effective indigenous organisations in South America.

In 1981, Nugkuag moved from the regional to the national level and was instrumental in setting up the Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), of which he became president. AIDESEP pursued similar aims to those of CAH but its national status enabled indigenous communities to insist on respect for their territorial rights when threatened by state colonisation and the increasing pressures of capitalist exploitation.

Indigenous leaders from Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador attended a regional meeting called by AIDESEP in 1984, and this led to the establishment of the Coordination Group of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), with Nugkuag again the prime mover. Today, with additional members in Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana, COICA represents most indigenous people in the nine Amazonian countries. It has demonstrated its ability to unite the strength of its members in the common objective of gaining respect for their rights and for alternative development strategies.

From 1977 to 1996, Nugkuag worked on bottom-up processes from community to international level. Having sought to maximise the voice of indigenous people in global fora, he then felt called to return to his roots at CAH in order to work on the impact of international forces at the local level. He has set himself the task of construction an alternative human development strategy for the Aguaruna and Huambisa people.

Among other initiatives is one of bioprospección indígena, which makes use of the Amazonian forest (without felling it) to improve the human quality of life through natural, organic and spiritual approaches to health, medicine, agriculture, nutrition and industrial uses. This would require changes of national policy in respect of education, the law and government structures. The initiative is one aspect of the struggle Nugkuag has undertaken to find concrete expression for indigenous ideas of self-determination and alternative development.

Speeches

Acceptance Speech by Evaristo Nugkuag-Ikanan

December 8th, 1986

I would like to thank the Right Livelihood Award Foundation which decided to award me this Alternative Nobel Prize.

I accept this prize on behalf of my people, the Aguaruna, and our organisation, the Aguaruna and Huambisa Council.

On behalf of the indigenous people of the Peruvian rainforest who together make up the thirteen organizational councils and federations grouped within AIDESEP (Inter-Indian Association of the Peruvian Rainforest). And finally on behalf of all the tribes people of the Amazon who are members of the indigenous organisations of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, who joined together in 1984 to form the COORDINADORA OF INDIGENOUS ORGANISATIONS OF THE AMAZON BASIN.  On behalf of all of them, thank you very much. It is something very new, very special that the panel of this institution should have considered myself, a representative of the Aguaruna Indians, as worthy of such an important prize. It is new for two reasons: In the first place, tribes people, such as myself, are not used to receiving recognition at an individual level.

The great difference between the indigenous and the Western world is that we live a collective and communal life. We live in communities, we feel at home with our brothers of our group, of our people, of our indigenous nation. Together we are strong. The individual is important as a member of the whole. Our ancestors had no experience of Western individualism. We cannot conceive of it for our children. The confrontation between the two worlds the Western and the Indian world, has had a great impact because we were not prepared for individualism, egotism and its most dangerous expression, capitalism, which is destroying a great deal of the world.
In the second place, this is the first time that an institution of the western world has considered us for such an important and esteemed prize.

Of course, some doors have been opened to us to voice our opinion. But this is the first time that our struggle has been recognised at legitimate, the struggle of all indigenous organisations who defend our ancestral claims to our lands and our right to be the bearers and creators of our own culture.

For that reason, the prize is a new development. In the West you have tended to glorify the great deeds of the settlers and conquistadores of the pioneers who won hundreds of people over to civilisation. How many monuments to Columbus and other heroes are to be found in the cities of Europe. We have been the great forgotten ones. Nobody has heard of the history, past and present, of the colonised, the history of the native people subjected to civilisation.

Much has been said about the independence of America, that great step forward in the history of our peoples. But Bolivar brought his ideas from Europe and the independence was for those of mixed race. For us, the tribal peoples of America, the original Americans, the matter is still not resolved.

So far, not even in the United Nations, even less in the legislature of our own countries, have the collective rights of the people of our nations, which exist within those states, been recognised.

That is why this prize, awarded by a Western institution, is doubly important. We are hopeful that it will be a step towards brotherhood while there is still time.

The arrival of the so-called civilisation meant the beginning of a series of transformations in the lives of our peoples, destroying, partially or totally, our lands and natural resources, imposing on us customs and cultural values alien to our own culture which allows us to respond efficiently to the problems and uncertainties of our environment.

Throughout this process of conquest and colonisation which began 400 years ago, people influenced by different ideas-have-loft their mark of destruction on our peoples. There was the pioneering conquistadors in search of "El Dorado", who saw in our forebears no more than obstacles whose elimination was a heroic achievement. Then there were the religious missionaries, who in the process of supposedly saving our souls, destroyed our spirit, leaving the door wide open to exploitation. And finally, the rubber merchants, who left it to their agents to physically exploit the Indian people to the limit of their endurance. The colonisers showed the world an empty Amazonia and showed more respect to the animal world than to the lives of our ancestors.

Our people were weakened, subjected to slavery, to alien diseases which over four centuries decimated our population. The atrocities committed on the Indians and their systematic extermination were hailed as triumphs of civilisation. Of the 78 nations or ethnic groups which existed at the beginning of this century in the Peruvian Amazon, no more than 60 still survive. Of the 45,000 people who inhabited the Huitotos territories at that time, today only 5000, including myself, can be proud to receive this prize.

As a consequence of colonisation, the Indian territories grew smaller every day and the natural environment which sustained our lives was irreversibly destroyed. When the governments recognised our communal titles, we Indians understood that the rest of our lands were no longer our own and that the long struggle for their recovery was only just beginning. Communal lands were divided up. People whose relationships formed the basis for their survival were separated. And governments turned a blind eye to the massive destruction of the very resources which through the wisdom of our ancestors had sustained us through the centuries.

In addition to this destruction, we Indians have been victims of the Western cultural superiority complex. Alien values, beliefs and needs were imposed on us and used as instruments of oppression. Those values are useless in our Amazonian environment.

Despite the destruction we are still alive, although our culture has been weakened. But some of our people have reached such a state of alienation that they have become ashamed of their own culture. They have become dependent on the very system that oppresses them.

Many of our children have forgotten their native tongue and are experiencing a sense of shame and prejudice towards our traditional culture. The civilising mission schools have gradually discredited the knowledge of our forefathers. The introduction of the employment system has disrupted our collective way of living. In a racist society, we are at the very bottom of the ladder.

Now, it may seem to you that all this should be past history and behind us now. But it is a history characterised by ignorance and oppression by a dehumanised western capitalist system. I should like to remind you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that this terrible history is the history of today and that the missionaries end conquistadores, the big commercial companies and the tourists are today's actors and live amongst us. I shall remind you of a few cases, and I am only quoting those which have concerned our organisation, AIDESEP, over the last few months:

  • Slaughter of Ashaninka Indian leaders in the Gran Pajonal region and wholesale theft of their lands by big business.
  • Murder of Chief Nuncanquit of the Tsuntsuntaa community, one of my own people, the Aguaruna, who was killed in an ambush by gunmen hired by colonists who had been evicted by court order after a long and costly trial.
  • Displacement of the Ashaninka Indian population in the Atalaya region and occupation of their houses, leaving the Indians to their fate.
  • Large-scale special colonization projects in Pichis-Palcau, Jeen, San Ignacio, Bagua, liuallaga Central, Alto Mayo and Madro de Dios, which include plans to colonize vast regions inhabited by the Aguaruna, Anusiesba, Ashaninka, Cocemilla and other Indian peoples and which is being financed by Western institutions such as the World Bank, BID and AID.
  • Unconstitutional annulment of the communal title of Teach open, belonging to the Amuesba people, because of pressure from the Franciscan missionaries who do not want to lose the land they had seized from the Indians in the past.
  • Ethnocide of the Nahua people in La Convencion who are dying of diseases brought in by the timber merchants a result of which their numbers have substantially decreased.
  • Large-scale invasion of the lands of the Amarakaere by gold-mining companies who defend their plunder by trickery, bribery and arms sale.
  • Concessions of vast areas of Indian territories for oil exploration by companies such as Shell in Madre de Dios.
  • The continuous struggle by the Cocamilla people to defend the Achual Tlpiwhca lagune, their only source of food provision, and of the Shipibo group in defense of the river banks.
  • Unscrupulous permits given to large timber companies resulting in the indiscriminate destruction of our natural resources and the subsequent flight of our animals, as in the case with the Aehaninka conununity in the central rainforest.
  • Exploitation by the tourist industry of the people and cultural heritage of the Yahua, Shipibo and others.
  • Illegal invasion of the lands of the Chamikar Aguaruna community as a result of the construction of a road crossing their territories, an invasion which has been supported by the army with threats and shots at the family dwelling of the community's Chief.
  • Disregard of the Indian vote for these same Aguarunain the district of Imazita on racist grounds.
I am speaking about Peru about our recent problems. Our sister organisations in the Amazon Basin have similar problems, which are in many cases even more serious:

  • Invasion by gold prospectors and mining companies in the Upper Rio Negro region in Brazil, endangering the survival of over 18000 Indians.
  • Oil exploration in the tribal area of the Javari Valley by the State company Petrobras, which is causing violent conflicts between the Indians and the intruders.
  • Violent expulsion by the military police of the Pataxo HaHaHa in South Bahia, Brazil, whose long struggle has been frustrated by the neglect of the Federal Supreme Court.
  • Ethnocide of 19 Indian groups of approximately 10,000 people by the largest development project in the world, the Grande Carajas in Brazil, which is financed by German and Japanese banks and the World Bank.
  • Large oil-producing African palm plantations, financed by national and European capital such as Palm Oriente S.A. and Palmera de Ecuador, which increasingly threaten the existence of the Quichua communities in the Nape River and Coca River regions of Ecuador.
  • The signing of new contracts between the Ecuadorean government and multinational companies such as Occidental, Esso, Hispanoil, OPIP, Diamond and Nomeco, once again affecting the life of the Ecuadorean Indians.
  • Theft of lands and timber. Racial and religious discrimination on part of the Bishop-entrepreneur Boese against the Quarani Indians in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

I do not wish to tire you, the list is endless. Crimes, atrocities and injustices are too numerous to any longer affect our feelings. Can you imagine the outrage which any of these cases would cause if they were to happen in your own country?

And yet, our sons and daughters are children, just like yours, our women, our men are people, just like any other, our nations have their pride, their history, their heroes, their beliefs, their customs, just like any other... Today you are awarding us a prize because you have understood. So you can also stop your governments helping to plunge our people into further suffering. We shall grow stronger in our struggle with your help.

I would like to explain something to you. That huge green sea of Amazonia is not a paradise of fertility. We Indians live in an environment which for centuries has retained its ecological balance because we have applied our knowledge wisely so as not to destroy the land.

The lands of the Amazon are the poorest in the world and demand a lot of care if they are to continue to be fertile. Once destroyed, they will not recover. Only 2% of the soil is suitable for agriculture and we, the Indians, have lived on those lands for centuries.

This is the reality which the various governments of the Amazon do not want to understand. They use the rainforest to avoid agrarian reforms benefiting the peasants, those, who work the land in other areas of our countries. Through colonization, they are seeking to avoid a fair distribution of land for them.

Neither do the financial institutions of the developed countries understand, neither the World Bank nor the Interamerican Bank, the AID or any others. Many of their projects fail, because any change to the rainforest in term of agricultural exploitation will result in the complete destruction of the Amazonian land ...

For capitalism, this is merely a failure, a bad investment which in the short-term has some political advantages. For us, who are thinking about the future of our children, it means the loss of our way of life.

That is why our point, of view differ. The settlers, the government, the banks, regard this Amazon as a means to make a quick profit, without giving a thought to the long-term implications of their decisions.

To us, the earth is the basis of our existence and we need to retain her whole with all the variety of nature and we cannot negotiate her prize or forget about her. To us, the earth is not just a factor of production.

But this is the way that the governments operate. They give us small communes settlements, dotted around colonisation projects, surrounded by enterprises engaged in plundering our earth.

When the old Chief Juaneco of the Ashaninkas asked recently for our support in the titling of his community Tahuanti, we explained to him the difficulties of obtaining large extensions of land. He answered: "You say this because you know us, this is our land. Do only people live here? No, there are also monkeys, even bears. And where would the monkeys go if we didn't ask for land for them as well. That is the way our land is. The land is for everyone's men, animals and plants, land full of the spirits of our forefathers, it is a reciprocal relationship. The land is for our men of today and for our children."

How can governments allocate land to us when they arrived here after we did?
That is why the struggle for the land is the greatest struggle today. A struggle we cannot afford to lose because our life depends on its outcome.

Why do I want you to know this? Because in that great green sea the Indians are beginning to learn the meaning of hunger.

And the other great battle is for respect. Because these two things go together. If we have our lands taken from us it is because we are seen as being different, we are not respected.

What do governments, religious institutions, officials or the military do to defend our rights? Nothing, because they have other priorities.

And that is why we, the indigenous people, have decided to give the process of unification priority. And we are getting stronger, from community to community, village to village, from country to country. The voice of the indigenous people is becoming louder.

Now I will present to you the indigenous organisations which in my name have been recognised under this banner:

THE COUNCIL OF AGUARUNA AND HUAMBISA, the indigenous organisation of my place of origin which has united the work of 89 communities settled along 5 rivers and tributaries of Maranon, near the border with Ecuador.

This council has joined together our two ethnic groups to start a new beginning. Together we are defending our lands and resources. There are many cases, such as our first fight against the film production company of the German Werner Herzog, the American gold miner Gerald Stucky, who tried to plunder our resources and misuse our culture.

The council is dealing with our health problems, which have been ignored by the state, with a programme of traditional medical cures involving more than 100 paramedics, obstetricians, supervisors and laboratory assistants. All these people are Aguaruna or Huambisa. There are more than 80 health clinics, 5 central clinics, there is a permanent training programme and an independent medical supply system.

The council has organised an efficient economic system with more than 70 communal enterprises and five centres of commerce, as well as a mechanism for controlling surplus production which allows us not to take more than we need from our land.

Though the council we are trying to give our children a meaningful education which relates to our culture, of which we were robbed by the Jesuit missions, the merchants and the Institute of Linguistics of Verano. Finally, through the council we have recovered our pride in being Aguaruna and Husiubisa.

In the present municipal elections, we have won all the mayorships in the region. Certainly now the government had to recognise us as the legitimate spokespeople for our region.

The Inter-Ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon AIDESEP is also included in this prize. This organisation unites the great majority of the organised bodies of the Indian population in Peru. It was created in 1980 through the initiative of a group of federations, councils and indigenous organisations. Our principal objective is to promote an independent response to the day to day problems the indigenous population of Peru face and defend our rights, from our indigenous perspective without outside interference.

Our principal line of action is the defence of our land and our resources as well as the right to our own language, culture and education, for self-determination and the right to political representation and for the security of our people.

We have developed indigenous policies for all those issues and are working towards a proposal for the Amazon which allows the establishment of alternative land use. In general, we are trying to give support to indigenous organisations vis-à-vis their dealings with governments and their Amazonian development agencies.

Lastly, THE COORDINADORA, The Co-ordinating Body of the Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin, which was formed in 1984 by the most representative indigenous organisations of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. With that organisation we are trying from the broadest possible base to strengthen and support our member organisations and establish a close and lasting relationship between them. We are also trying to fight for the rights of the indigenous people of the region through united action.

The Coordinator is trying to achieve the active participation of official organisations such as OEA, the UN, OIT, UNESCO and others, to keep them informed and to present to them our legitimate claims, to inform national and international opinion about the grievances of the indigenous populations.

I would like to extend my greetings to all the indigenous organisations whose struggles have been recognised by the award of this prize.

I would also like to extend greetings to all those organizations who by their solidarity and help have contributed selflessly to the struggle for the re-establishment of the rights of our people. I want to tell you that their effort in the European countries has increased our understanding of the problems our people face and we hope that in this way we can all take part in the search for peace and social justice for humanity.

I also want to greet and at the same time thank the ecological movements in the world who have recognised the vital importance of an ecological solution which we have always advocated especially in view of large multinational companies destroying resources in different parts of the world. Because of this, we ask them to continue their fight and continue to help us with their strength and enthusiasm.

Dear Friends and helpers, thank you for your attention. I return to my village with optimism to continue the struggle and I assure you that I will join you to achieve new goals which will serve to recognise the rights of all other peoples all over the world.

Thank you very much.

Contact

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