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  • One State, Many Nations: Indigenous Rights Struggles in Ecuador by Maximilian Viatori
  • Erin E. O'Connor
One State, Many Nations: Indigenous Rights Struggles in Ecuador. By Maximilian Viatori. Santa Fe, N.M.: SAR Press, 2010. Pp. x, 155. $29.95 paper.

Studies of indigenous activism in Ecuador typically concentrate on either national leaders or larger regional organizations. Viatori focuses instead on the small Zápara nationality in the Amazonian province of Pastaza. He aims to interrogate whether "recognition of indigenous rights provided new opportunities for Indigenous actors or further restricted their political action" (p. 5). Overall, he argues that both the Ecuadorian state and international organizations have usurped indigenous activists' concepts of culture and plurinationalism, and that their requirements for funding place significant obstacles in the way of autonomous Zápara advancement projects.

Like many Amazonian cultures, the Zápara had little interaction with outsiders until the late nineteenth-century rubber boom brought both economic and cultural devastation to their region. In the wake of the boom, the much-reduced Zápara community intermarried regularly with Kichwa speakers in the region, eventually leading to the near-extinction of the Zápara language. Moreover, the territory identified with the Zápara cultural group has few Zápara inhabitants; most of the cultural group lives outside of the designated lands. Yet another complication is that two different organizations, the Nacionalidad Zápara de Ecuador and the Comuna Záparo, compete with each other for funds and leadership. These dynamics make it difficult for the Zápara to develop a coherent agenda, or to meet outsiders' criteria as an "authentic" cultural group deserving of financial support.

To compensate for their lack of clear identification with Zápara language or landholdings, activist leaders claiming authenticity manipulate material culture: they wear vests of tree fiber and feathered headdresses whenever speaking for their organization in public. They also open speeches in Kichwa before switching over to Spanish, though they must also be careful to avoid sounding "too fluent" in Spanish lest outsiders see them as less than authentically indigenous. And while learning the Zápara language is an important goal for activists and communities, efforts to do so have had very limited success. With few native Zápara speakers left, all of them elderly, younger people are attempting to bring lessons to schoolchildren. However, indigenous education remains [End Page 417] woefully underfunded in Ecuador (despite official government support for bilingual education), and Zápara language textbooks offer little more than basic vocabulary.

These problems make it imperative for the Zápara to seek outside support from international organizations and NGOs; Zápara leaders require outside assistance from those who have the grant-writing and language skills that they lack. Viatori himself has often served in this capacity, and he does an especially fine job of self-analysis in looking at his own role in Zápara activism. Though alliances with non-Záparas are often sincere and can be quite fruitful, they are also fraught with tensions. For instance, external allies can come and go, but the Zápara must continue to try to carry out agendas even in times when funding is not forthcoming. Viatori further notes that Zápara leaders' project proposals are often either too narrow or too vague to get funded, but that Zápara leaders are often reluctant to change them based on external supporters' advice. Ultimately, while international funding organizations often claim that they want to advance indigenous autonomy, their expectations and requirements instead deepen indigenous peoples' dependence on non-indigenous experts.

This work makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of indigenous activism and the challenges that smaller indigenous groups face in attempting to achieve important goals. This reader would have liked to see a bit more discussion of how Zápara experiences either overlap or differ from those of indigenous peoples in other regions, but this is a minor quibble as studies of other regions are abundant. This book will be of interest not only to Ecuadorianists but also to scholars interested in indigenous activism more generally, and because it is short and readable it would be an excellent book for course adoption. Viatori has set...


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pp. 417-418
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