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  • 500 Years of Indian Resistance

    A Historical Look at Native Resistance in South America

    The following is excerpted from a position paper written by CONAIE for their National Program:

    "On October 12,1492 a group of adventurers backed by the Kings of Castille and Aragon, and lead by Christopher Columbus, landed on our continent. Their arrival inaugurated the so-called 'discoveries' of territories in America. 

    As is well-known, the Spanish conquest originated out of an extremely high demand for precious metals. This demand was generated by a crisis among feudal European regimes, particularly in Spain. The 'conquistadors' income generating plan was also fomented by a singular understanding and manner of practicing the Catholic faith. With respect to this perception of Catholicism, in 1606, Simon de Villalobos, a colonial authority, asserted, 'when we kill or wound, we must be careful to do so in defense of the faith of our father, Jesus Christ. In his name and defense we can win the heavens, employing-the spear and the knife.'

    In effect, the extraction and appropriation of gold and other riches by the 'conquistadors' was marked by violence and based on exploiting the labor of the indigenous population. Additionally, various forms of political domination and cultural oppression were used towards these ends. In the final analysis, the 'conquest' process constituted a transformation, readaptation, and in some cases, a break in the traditional lifestyles of our peoples. However, the principal characteristic of this process was the death of a huge portion of the indigenous population.

    The use of such violence was not an isolated event. To the contrary, violence constituted one of the more visible aspects of the process of political domination and cultural oppression. The official religion served the function of appeasing the 'conquistadors' consciences while becoming a tool for controlling the indigenous people. This was the case, despite the fact that only 45 years after the 'discovery' of America, the Catholic Church recognized indigenous people as human beings. The true role of the Church during this period, however, was questioned by Bartolome de las Casas, precursor of the Church committed to the fate of the poor...

    These events have been interpreted in various manners. To the hispanicists and eurocentricists, October 12,1492 signified the 'discovery' of the 'new continent' and the possibility of bringing the light of civilization and the Catholic religion to the dark, 'barbaric/ 'primitive, and 'pagan' societies. This point of view dominated Spanish and Portuguese thought during the sixteenth century. Slight modification to this line of thinking occurred during the first half of the seventeenth century, a period dominated by the Dutch, and has been sustained to this day by the Anglo-Saxon English, and later the North Americans, during the first decades of the twentieth century...

    The Indo-american people expressed many forms of resistance to colonial domination. All focused on the same objective however; the end of colonial rule. In this manner, the numerous peoples existing in the Americas at the time of its conquest were able to strengthen their commitment to unity while confronting the foreign 'conquistadors.'

    This understanding of the need for unity has brought about permanent conspiracies and uprisings against the colonial regimes, constituting the most definitive expression of the relative autonomy of the indigenous world with respect to colonial society. The indirect control exercised by the crown over indigenous societies permitted, to a certain extent, the preservation of the indigenous world. Our historical consciousness, linguistic and territorial identity, as well as certain aspects of the traditional productive process, rituals and religion, are among the areas remaining intact.

    From this point of view, the overthrow of the Spanish colonial regime can be primarily attributed to the anticolonial uprisings of the indigenous peoples. These uprisings began towards the end of the seventeenth century, taking hold in the most important productive, administrative and commercial centers of the Spanish Empire. Thus, the Creoles' efforts towards independence constituted little more than the epilogue in a process stemming from the anti-colonial mentality of the indigenous people...

    Within this ethnic and hierarchical order, the African peoples brought to the Americas during the slave trade, as well as certain sectors of the white/mestizo society, were included in the system of exploitation installed by the agrarian, neo-colonial regime. The fact that they are also victims of an exploitative system prompted many to join in the diverse forms of resistance initiated by the indigenous peoples.

    This resistance assumed new form and content as the nation states went about defining themselves in the political, administrative, and judicial spheres, along with establishing iron-clad systems of tribute and imposing submission to the ecclesiastical structure. Given the situation, uprisings focused on changing the harsh forms of exploitation on a local basis, while contributing to a strengthening of an autonomous spirit among our peoples.

    On the other hand, the efforts to establish an official, dominant culture on the part of the Creole elites were thwarted by the continual renewal of, and adherence to our historical consciousness, and the living elements of our cultural identity. For this reason, resistance was also focused on continual appreciation of our peoples and their cultures over the threats of the modernization of our traditional agrarian society.

    During this process, the struggle for land became one of the most important issues in our understanding of identity and autonomy. The land holds a fundamental place in our daily life, in our sacred vision of the world and the heavens. Thus, the peoples who have inherited the traditions of the high, agrarian, Indoamerican civilizations of North, Central and South America, along with the various people with whom they coexist, and who coexist with them, are comitted to protecting and glorifying our long trajectory of resistance to regimes characterized by economic exploitation and political domination...

    Due to the fact that Ecuadorian, and Latin American society in general have promoted modernization and development processes, their colonial heritage has not been overcome. Indians, Blacks and Mestizos are still subjected to exploitation and oppression. Economic and social differences, as well as racial discrimination, continue to be the norm in some countries. In many cases these practices have reached ethnocidal and genocidal proportions.

    The concept of 'Indian,' originating during colonial times, characterizes the Indian as different and inferior to the white European. This concept has endured to date. The indigenist practices advocate for the 'redemption of the Indian' via his integration into the national society. This policy has failed to solve the fundamental problems confronting our peoples. Despite certain predictions to the effect that industrial society would necessarily lead to the extinction of the Indians, the indigenous peoples have risen again. We have become stronger in our struggle to recover what is legitimately ours and formulate an alternative political project aimed at building a new society. In this manner, indigenous nationalities have comprised the most important nucleus of the future society, as well as of a Plurinational State.

    The political proposal for a Plurinational State does not seek to build 'separate states' as insinuated by some sectors of society in the hopes of engendering fear within the population. To the contrary, the idea is to reflect the reality of the country in terms of cultural and national diversity, recognizing these differences and establishing social, political and economic equality...

    From this perspective, we have moved forward in our organizational and political activities to such an extent that at present we
    are one of the most representative organized social forces. Along these lines, we have not only had a bearing on the restructuring of the national scene, but have also influenced the formulation of political parties' programs, and national governments.

    On the other hand, efforts by indigenous peoples, along with the political projections of their organizations, have been fundamental factors in defining the diverse historical and cultural identities of the peoples comprising American society, Along the same lines, the establishment of a Plurinational State presupposes the recovery of our true historic and cultural roots, and of our identities as peoples with a history and a future.

    1992 marks 500 years of the Spanish invasion. On this occasion, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), representating the indigenous peoples, exercises its right to reflect and protest the official celebrations of national governments, We call on the various social sectors of our country to unite in one front and generate a mass movement in Ecuador and throughout the continent. The basic objective of this mobilization is to recover the dignity of our peoples and reject all forms of submission, colonial practices and neo-colonialism.

    The actions we have planned are part of a broad opposition movement, reaching both continental and international proportions. This movement was created in response to the 500 years since the 'discovery' of America celebrations, or so-called 'Meeting of Two Worlds.' This is the context from which CONAIE has organized a program of activities for the next four years."

    Source: South and Meso-American Indian Information Center (SAIIC).  Berkeley, CA.  Fall 1989/Winter 1990, p.18-22.

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