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Culture

7 Positive Representations of Indigenous Communities We’re Proud of

 

The indigenous community has historically been overlooked and dehumanized but now more than ever they are getting the attention and respect they deserve. With icons like Yalitza Aparicio and activists like Amazonian female Chief Nazaré bringing the indigenous community front and center, their work is getting international attention. But these women are just two examples of a community that includes a total population of 45 million in Latin America, with more than 800 different indigenous communities. Despite the sheer size of the indigenous community, they have not been able to receive fair representation. In Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, there is a 100 percent representation gap in politics and the country with the lowest gap – Ecuador- is still abysmal with 27 percent. Furthermore, 43 percent of the indigenous communities live in poverty. But these barriers are not keeping indigenous women from advocating for their community and raising awareness about important causes. From 19-year-old Artemisa Xakriabá to elderly chiefs like sixty-eight-year-old Tsiweyenki of Paraguay, the seven representations of indigenous power in this list prove nothing can hold them back.

Yalitza Aparicio is the First Indigenous Woman on a Vogue Cover

 

Roma actress Yalitza Aparicio was featured on the January 2019 Vogue Mexico cover wearing a Christian Dior gown, underneath the words “a star is born” in Spanish, there is a translation of the same text in Mixteco. The cover isn’t her only historic first, she became the first Indigenous American woman and the second Mexican woman to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the role. The 25-year-old actress from Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca  talked about her influence in a video for Vogue, and how she is changing people’s perceptions. “Certain stereotypes are being broken: that only people with a certain profile can be actresses or be on the cover of magazines. Other faces of Mexico are now being recognized. It is something that makes me so happy and proud of my roots.” In 2019, she was appointed the UNESCO goodwill ambassador for indigenous peoples.

Yukaima González is the First Indigenous Woman to Win the Nayarit Beauty Pageant

 

Yukaima González, 18, made headlines when she became the first indigenous woman crowned Queen of the 2019 Nayarit State Fair. She hails from La Yesca, a municipality of Nayarit, and is a member of the Wixárika community also known as Huichol. Her win was historic but her participation alone was noteworthy considering indigienous women have historically not been a part of the competition. To participate in the beauty pageant, González moved to Nayarit where she worked as a nanny to help pay for school where she worked on a degree in physical culture and sports at the Autonomous University of Nayarit. For the competition, she stood out when she wore a beaded and bright outfit featuring traditional Wixárika god’s eyes.“In my community, we are losing our [indigenous] language, and residents are ashamed of wearing their traditional clothing,” she told Mexico News Daily. “I’m here so that they’ll feel proud of our roots and who we are.”

Amazonian Chief Nazaré Advocates for Rain Forest and Indigenous Residents

Ajareaty Waiapione also known Nazaré is one of the few female chiefs of the indigenous Waiapi people and at 59 she’s attending school to educate herself on how to conserve the Amazon rain forest. Her community is made up of about 1,500 people in 92 small villages and after the murder of one of their leaders by illegal gold miners, she’s encouraging the community to rotate villages. But her efforts go beyond that, she also teaches how to safely clear areas of the forest using controlled fires and rotating sites also allows the forest to regenerate. As an older student, she hopes to inspire other community members to seek education and she remains an outspoken and key figure in the movement to preserve the rain forest.

Radio Indígena Serves Indigenous Communities in Mexico and Central America

 

Radio Indígena releases 40 hours of original programming every week as one of the first radio stations in the U.S. catering to the indigenous community. The station is hosted/run by the Mixteco Indígena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), a nonprofit organization providing health services, humanitarian support, and language interpretation to indigenous communities living in California. In California, one-third of farm workers speak indigenous languages so the programming caters to them, with content primarily Mixteco, as well as Zapoteco, Triqui, Nahuatl, and Spanish. On their site, they state the station “creates a voice for the indigenous community that too often experiences social isolation and deprivation of rights within the community in general.”

Indigenous Maka People Elect First Female Leader, Tsiweyenki

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A woman takes leadership of Paraguay's Maka people (Photos AP/ Jorge Saenz) – For the tiny Maka culture of Paraguay, political authority has passed from father to son for generations even as the band has struggled for survival, its way of life uprooted by war and migration from a vast, isolated countryside to an urban neighborhood near the capital. So the death in February of Andrés Chemei, a widely respected figure who led the group for 40 years, posed a problem. He had no son. The solution has been at least a small advance for women in Paraguay: Maka leaders chose his widow, Tsiweyenki to be one of the first female chiefs of an indigenous people in the South American country. "The Maka are respectful of women and in this case we have placed our trust in Chemei's widow," said Yelukín, director of a dance company that performs traditional Maka dances at cultural events. While she still breaks down in tears at times thinking of her late husband, Tsiweyenki expressed thankfulness at her new post. "I feel good because the community shows me respect," she told The Associated Press in the Maka tongue, speaking through an interpreter. The 68-year-old Tsiweyenki – known to the Paraguayan state as Gloria Elizeche – has a warm smile, but a difficult task. Most of the roughly 2,000 Maka live in a 35-acre (14-hectare) colony in a city bordering the capital, Asuncion. They're also carrying on Chemei's battle to assert ownership of 830 acres (335 hectare) of lands a little way down the Paraguay River where the Maka lived for four decades before flooding forced most to move into town. Only a century ago, the Maka were largely hunter-gatherers in northwest Paraguay's remote Chaco region. And only a few decades ago, census figures counted their population at less than 1,000. Chemei had been a link to the Maka's history. The son of a chief himself, he spent time as a boy in the home of a Russian emigre general, Juan Belaieff, who established warm ties with the Maka ahead of the 1932-1935 war against Bolivia and then oversaw their move from the remote Chaco region to lands closer to the capital.

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Tsiweyenki, also known as Gloria Elizeche, took on the role of chief of the Maka people in Paraguay following the death of her husband and long-time leader, Andrés Chemei. She took on the role since they had no children and traditionally it was passed down from father to son. The Maka is one of 20 indigenous communities that remain in Paraguay with a combined population of 120,000. Like most women, indigenous or otherwise, she will multi-task, taking on the role of principal of a primary and secondary school, leader for a labor union and soccer team and head the local Baptist church. As one of the first female chiefs in Paraguay, she’s living proof it’s never too late to make history.

Indigenous Teenage Climate Activist Empowers Communities

Artemisa Xakriabá is a 19-year-old indigenous climate activist leading global efforts to thwart the harmful effects of climate change. From São João das Missões, Brazil, she’s a representative of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities for indigenous communities and she participated in the first march for indigenous women this year.During the protest, they took to the streets of the capital in Brasília to denounce President Bolsonaro’s destructive environmental policies that have allegedly led to the fires destroying the Amazon. “We fight for our Mother Earth because the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights,” Xakriabá said during a climate strike in New York City this year. “We are fighting for your lives. We are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our sacred territory. But we are being persecuted, threatened, murdered, only for protecting our own territories. We cannot accept one more drop of indigenous blood spilled.”

Vogue Mexico Features Indigenous Women for Its 20th Anniversary Cover

 

Vogue Mexico released six covers in late 2019 and three feature indigenous women from various parts of Latin America. The first cover features Abigail Mendoza,  a famous Zapotec chef from Oaxaca who owns Tlamanalli, a restaurant the New York Times has called one of the best in the world. The other covers include four indigenous Bolivians female cooks turned alpinists known as Las Cholitas as well as the ‘Rarámuri runner’ María Lorena Ramírez,  an indigenous woman who won an ultramarathon in huaraches. “When I travel through Latin America, I am always asked what Vogue is doing to open the way for women to workspaces and prevent sexist stereotypes,” Karla Martínez de Salas, Editorial Director of Vogue México y Latinoamérica, wrote in the magazine. “I hope that the stories we present in this anniversary edition inspire women to dream big, to start with small changes and, above all, to connect with their roots, accepting their unique beauty and celebrating their originality.”