The indigenous nationalities of Ecuador have always had community and family as the basis of our social organization. From that base grew the necessity to form relationships with other communities of the zone, the province and the region. For that reason we formed the zonal, provincial and regional organizations. In order for our voice to be heard at the national level, we formed the organization that now represents us, CONAIE, in 1986. CONAIE represents all of the indigenous nationalities of the country, some organized into provincial organizations, and others not.
The National Organization is the result of a long process which is worth reviewing from a distance in order to better understand where we have come from and where we are going.
CONAIE was formed out of the union of two already existing organizations, ECUARUNARI and CONFENIAIE. ECUARUNARI, the regional organization of the Sierra that has been functioning for over 20 years, and the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon(CONFENIAE), formed in 1980, created that same year the National Coordinating Council of the Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONACNIE. CONACNIE was the center of long discussions to clarify the terms and objectives of the movement. We could see what united us and what separated us. For example, languages separated us, but the problems we shared united us: the lack of land, racial discrimination, lack of bilingual education, and above all, the need to have our own voice.
After that necessary step of coming to the most elemental agreements, the next step was the legal constitution of a national organization to represent all of us, including the indigenous people of the coast, through the formation of their regional organization, COICE.
The legalization of the organization, and obtaining a physical space from which to work, have greatly facilitated the process of the consolidation of CONAIE.
At the moment of the formation of our organization, we had two urgent tasks: land and education. Along with the resolution of the many land problems that have been waiting for years, we pushed for the bilingual education program to be organized by CONAIE. We succeeded in signing an agreement between CONAIE and the Ministry of Education and Culture that is still functioning today. In this way we have been able to unify the Quichua language, and we now want to carry this project further with other indigenous languages.
Within our movement we have been carrying on discussions to define terms such as nationality, Peoples, 'campesinos', Indians, indigenous. We have also come to differentiate the meaning of land and territory for indigenous peoples. The debates are continuing to clarify these concepts.
These discussions have contributed to a growing sense of self- identification, and of pride in belonging to a people. This is reflected as well in the understanding of the rest of the nation when they no longer, out of ignorance, use pejorative terms such as aucas when referring the Huaorani, jibaros when referring to the Shuar, colorados instead of Tsachilas, or cayapas instead of Chachi. The word Indian is still used in general, but there will come a time when each nationality will be referred to by its own name.
We also recognize that CONAIE has been developed with too much influence from the structure of labor unions or interest groups, but since we have come to realize that this structure does not respond to our needs, or our traditional ways of organizing, we are searching for work methods that faithfully reflect our own manner of arriving at consensus. The base organizations make decisions and the leadership of CONAIE serves as an intermediary between those decisions and the actions taken.
Examples of this style of working are the Indian Uprising of June, 1990, and the Indigenous March by OPIP in April of this year, which was supported not only by the indigenous communities in Ecuador, but by the general public.