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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Ecuador

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date August 2014
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Ecuador, August 2014, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated: August 2014


Ecuador is bounded by the Pacific Ocean and neighbours both Colombia and Peru. The country consists of three regions: the highlands or Andean region, the Amazon region or eastern lowlands (Oriente), and the Pacific coastal region. Although there is an indigenous presence throughout the country, indigenous peoples are often identified either with the Andean or Amazonian regions as highlanders or lowlanders (Amazon dwellers). Afro-Ecuadorians are highly concentrated in the coastal region of Ecuador and thus are often identified with this part of the country.


Until the oil boom in the mid-1970s, Ecuador was one of the poorest countries in Latin America, largely dependent on agricultural exports, with very little industry. The oil boom launched the country into a decade of remarkable economic growth. The rapid accumulation of foreign debt brought about the promotion of industry by import substitution, massive public works programmes, and the mushrooming of the service sector and of the government. Although the agrarian reforms of the 1960s-70s promised sweeping land redistribution in the fertile Highland valleys, such reforms were not fully implemented. The Agrarian Reform Law of 1964 and subsequent reforms treated indigenous people as poor peasants emphasizing individual land titles and dismissing their demands for collective rights. In addition, such legislation encouraged the colonization of 'empty' forested lands, despite the fact that such territory had been traditionally inhabited by minority groups for hundreds if not thousands of years. Further, Afro- Ecuadorians were largely ignored by agrarian reforms because the land that they have traditionally inhabited along the northern coast was excluded from the legislation. Afro-Ecuadorians were treated by the state as assimilated settlers and not as traditional communities with rights to communal land.

The oil boom of the 1970s brought the hope of prosperity, but it would eventually present serious threats to minority groups as well as conflict with land reform policies. Although other oil subsidiaries had been active in the Orient, it was Texaco's arrival, preceded by the Ecuadorian military and evangelical missionaries and land hungry settlers, which devastated the Siona, Secoya, Cofán, Hauorani and lowland Quichua. The penetration of oil companies in this area had devastating effects on indigenous peoples, causing the extinction of the traditionally isolated Tetete group and contaminating rivers. Medical studies showed that some 30,000 people had been affected by cancer and skin diseases caused by unsafe petroleum extraction.

Throughout the 1990s, Ecuador was forced to engage in a series of drastic policies and reforms to stabilise the economy and induce structural adjustments to cope with foreign exchange scarcity, and a distorted and non-competitive economy. By the end of the 1990s, the country's economy fell into a severe economic recession, caused by, among other factors, the continued fall of oil prices. Indigenous communities and local ecological groups united to sue the company for one billion dollars, however, in 1995 Texaco attempted to avoid payment of damages by claiming bankruptcy at the time the damage was done. Texaco subsequently offered a settlement to various communities, which was not, however, accepted. Instead, with the support of the newly elected Correa administration, indigenous communities sued Chevron (which owns Texaco) for US$6 billion for dumping 18 billion gallons of polluted water in their operations during 1964-92.


Main languages: Spanish (Castilian) 93 per cent (official), Quechua 4.1 per cent, other indigenous 0.7 per cent, foreign 2.2 per cent. (Quechua and Shuar are official languages of intercultural relations; other indigenous languages are in official use by indigenous peoples in the areas they inhabit) (2010 est.)

Main religions: Christianity (majority Roman Catholic, with Evangelical Protestantism gaining much terrain, including in indigenous communities), indigenous religions

Minority groups include 14 distinct indigenous peoples - including Tsáchila, Chachi, Epera, Awa, Kichwas, Shuar, Achuar, Shiwiar, Cofán, Siona, Secoya, Zápara, Andoa y Waorani, and Afro-Ecuadorians (7.2 per cent). (data: 2010 census). According to the 2010 census indigenous people represent 7 per cent of the Ecuadorian population (1.018 million), an increase of 22.6 per cent from the estimated indigenous population in 2001. Other estimates of the indigenous population are considerably higher.

Among the indigenous ethnic groups are the highland and lowland Quichua, lowland Cofán, Secoya, Siona, Hauorani, Achuar and Shuar, Tsáchila and Chachí. The 2001 census recorded that indigenous people represent 6.8 per cent of the population. However, many, including the Confederation of the Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE), argue that indigenous peoples comprise somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent of the total population.

Similarly, there is a large gap between the official figures for Afro-Ecuadorians (5 per cent) and NGO estimates (10 per cent). These differences have to do with issues of classification of black and indigenous people, particularly of those who have intermarried with non-black or non-indigenous people, and those who live in urban areas.


Throughout the 1950s Ecuadorian politics was plagued with problems of corruption, coups and general social unrest; however stability was briefly returned in the 1960s and 1970s with military rule and with the introduction of a multiparty democratic system in 1979. Still, the persistence of weak institutions and party conflict paired with a deterioration of the economy propelled Ecuadorian politics into a perpetual state of emergency. Ecuador has seen seven presidents in the last ten years, most of which have been ousted by mass protest or through congressional rulings. Starting in the late 1980s, the most salient issue defining Ecuadorian politics has been neo-liberal reform and the presence of international corporations in Ecuador.

One of the most important political developments in Ecuador was the founding of the Confederation of the Indigenous Nations of Ecuador (CONAIE) in 1986. This confederation has been instrumental in organizing pan-indigenous uprising. A key player in Ecuadorian politics, CONAIE has demanded land restitution for indigenous peoples and envisaged a national economy based on territorial autonomy. Its sixteen-point demands included the right to practice traditional medicine, to bilingual education and to indigenous control of archaeological sites. Whereas issues of ethnicity and multiculturalism had traditionally been marginalized from Ecuadorian politics, they have come to define them. Ecuador's minority groups, namely the indigenous populations, have been key players in opposing neo-liberal reforms and thus have been central to popular and sometimes violent uprisings. Although Afro-Ecuadorians have not been as visible in Ecuadorian politics as their indigenous counterparts, they have gained more visibility through the presence of black politicians and Afro-Ecuadorian NGOs. In 2000, responding to neo-liberal reform and dollarizasion policies, indigenous communities backed Lucio Gutierrez in a brief junta that replaced President Jamil Mahuad. Still, the alliance between Gutierrez and minority groups failed over his adoption of neoliberal economic policies.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Acción Ecológica
Tel: +593 2 3211-103/3210-436/3211-246

Asociación Latinoamericana para los Derechos Humanos
Tel: +593 2 2246-035/2240-918

Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE)


Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE)
Tel: +593 2 452-335

Organizaciones Indígenas de la Cuenca Amazónica
Tel: +593 2 3226-744

Federación Ecuatoriana de Indígenas Evangélicos (FEINE)
Tel: +593 2 2441-591/+593 2 2273- 929

Organización de Pueblos Indígenas de Pastaza

Confederacion De Nacionalidades Indigenas De La Amazonia Ecuatoriana
Tel: +593 2 543-973

Federación Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas, Indígenas y Negras (FENOCIN)
Tel: +593 2 2228-191/2552-076

Instituto Científico de Culturas Indígenas
Teléfonos: +593 2 2900 048, 320 3696, 320 3715

Sources and further reading

Corkill, D. and Cubitt, D., Ecuador: Fragile Democracy, London, Latin America Bureau, 1988.

Field, L., 'Ecuador's pan-Indian uprising', NACLA Report on the Americas, vol. 25, no. 3, December 1991, pp. 39-44.

Martin, Pamela. 'Loco in the Andes: Ecuador, Democracy, and Globalization,' The Globalist,, April 2005

Martin, Pamela. The Globalization of Contentious Politics: The Amazonian Indigenous Rights Movement, Routledge Press: New York (2003).

Urban, G. and Sherzer, J. (eds), Nation-States and Indians in Latin America, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1994, pp. 53- 71.

Whitten, N.E. and Quiroga, D., 'Ecuador', in MRG (ed.), No Longer Invisible: Afro-Latin Americans Today, London, Minority Rights Publications, 1995.

Yashar, Deborah J. Contesting citizenship in Latin America: the rise of indigenous movements and the postliberal challenge. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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