Hueiya Alicia Cahuiya Iteca (Mid-40’s)
Alicia is not only an environmental activist, she is a women’s rights activist. She lives in
Ecuador, was born in the Ñoneno community in the Yasuní reserve, the granddaughter of a
feared Huaorani warrior, called Iteca. At 18 she became a leader, following the footsteps of her
grandmother in a traditionally male-dominated community.
On 3 October 2013, the Constituent Assembly in Quito gathered to discuss the Yasuní-ITT plan
(for oil exploitation). Cahuiya was invited to participate as Vice-President of the Huaorani Nation
of Ecuador, and she was expected to read the script given to her by her President, Chief Moi
Enomenga. The speech acceded to oil drilling in her homeland in the headwaters of the
When Cahuiya stood up to talk, she defied her President and the government and made her
own speech, first in her native Huaorani language, then in Spanish, denouncing the oil
companies and speaking up in defence of her people. The vote to save the Yasuní from oil
drilling was lost that day, but Alicia had captured the hearts of Assembly members and the
nation. Her message was front-page news; from that moment Alicia became an inspiration for
indigenous women and a respected national political figure, tirelessly campaigning for the rights
of her people, of the uncontacted groups of the Amazon and its environment.
I always feel for my portrait subjects, yet, when painting Alicia, I had numerous experiences of
shivers and extreme emotion. There is no doubt that Alicia is a powerful force in this world.
There are not many photographs of her available, most are not smiling. I chose this one
because of the extreme look of determination. Her expression reminds me of that of Pia: “I didn’t
ask for this, yet I am doing it.”