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This Week's Guest Is:
-Ecuadorian Indigenous People's Defense Office-
Past Salasaca National President Nicolas "Miguel" Chango at the United
Nicholas ChangoIndigenous Leader from Ecuador
By Steve Grove
June 16, 2004
In one way or another, Nicholas Chango has been preparing for leadership
since the day he was born. The elders of his tribe in Ecuador, the Salasaca,
predicted that Chango would be a great leader, and commemorated his birth
with many ceremonies. From an early age, Chango says, they put him through
an intense training program that sometimes lasted 15 hours a day.
Brought to a cornfield in the early hours of the morning, Chango was taught
to listen to nature and pray to the sun.
"[The elders] helped me to understand that all the land is interconnected,
" Chango remembers. Later, these elders (called yachaj) wanted Chango to
learn how to represent the Salasaca in Ecuadorian society. So they sent him
to high school outside of the village.
There, Chango came into contact with non-indigenous Ecuadorians and a society
that has a long history of oppression of indigenous peoples. Spanish
conquistadors came to Equador in 1534, taking control of the land and weakening
the indigenous population with disease. Many Salasacan women were reportedly
used as forced laborers. In the 21st century, conflicts between the groups
have continued, as indigenous groups wrestle with the mestizo population
for a voice in the countrys tenuous democracy.
After his high school graduation, Chango envisioned a future of political
activism for the Salasacan people in mainstream Ecuadorian society. But
Changos life changed drastically when, in 1989, he was forced to flee
Though he was hesitant to mention specifics in a recent phone interview,
Chango claims that a murder case involving three Salasacans put his community
under scrutiny from the Ecuadorian government. When he stood up for his
community, Chango said that mestizo "officials" banished him from the country.
Chango said he was told, "If you dont leave tonight
Forces will come, and they will kill you and your people."
Chango fled, wandering through Central America and crossing into Arizona
before ending up in Wisconsin, where a sympathetic Salasacan took him in.
Suddenly, a challenging new life was thrust upon a boy who had grown up being
told he was "the chosen one."
"I couldnt even get a job," recalled Chango, who estimates his current
age at around 35. "I started washing dishes one hour a week, and I couldnt
even pay for a bus ticket. It was so disgraceful."
He studied English and scraped up enough money to attend the University of
Wisconsin at Madison, where he received a degree in political science. Going
to school changed everything, Chango said. His life as a political activist
for the Salasaca was reborn.
After organizing with other indigenous students at the university, Chango
graduated and made his way to New York, where he found other Salasacan refugees
living in the borough of Queens. He created the Ecuadorian Indigenous Peoples
Legal Support Office in America in October 2002 to help indigenous refugees
fight for their rights as refugees.
The organizations mission is "to serve as a link to other [American]
organizations, [and] to provide legal advice to indigenous people," Chango
said. The group has grown to represent non-indigenous Spanish-speaking immigrants
Changos leadership in the indigenous community has taken him all the
way to the United Nations, where he gave a speech on indigenous issues in
But despite his work at the international level, Chango still believes he
is chosen to represent his people back home. He plans to attend law school
next year, and then return to Ecuador.
"I want to run for president of Ecuador," Chango said. "Thats my last
Juila Ris and Jennifer Stellar contributed to this
This is Nicolas Chango's first Prophecykeepers Radio
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