Chayamun uñanchick! (Our little one has arrived!) were the words Cliver Ccahuanihancco Arque’s (Quechua) grandparents expressed when they found out about his birth. When Cliver came into the world, it not only meant love and celebration for the addition of one more member to his already large family, but also a future workforce to carry on the tradition of agriculture, livestock, and sheep wool collection, which was the foundation of his family’s livelihood. As a child, Cliver herded animals, chased away birds to protect seeds, and counted the number of bites each cow, alpaca, and sheep took to discover their connection with Pachamama. This eventually made him understand that both humans and other living beings coexist within and alongside Mother Earth. Cliver’s love for the land inspired him to pursue meaningful work, which led him to recently join the Cultural Survival family as a Program Assistant for the Keepers of the Earth Fund.
According to Cliver’s parents, “His childhood unfolded in a traditional way according to our Quechua culture, but later he had to move to an urban setting where the Indigenous culture we had passed on to him was not an option...the violence practiced against us was so cruel that it made us tell him not to be, or resemble, what we were—Indigenous—as he would risk being excluded and discriminated against as well.” Nevertheless, Cliver remained proud of his Quechua Indigenous identity, belonging to the Colla ethnic group within the Andean region of Peru.
In 2009, Cliver entered a private law school and also began studying anthropology at a public university. “It was like two different worlds; on one hand, an elite, private faculty filled with people my family called Mistis (white mestizos with power), and on the other hand, a lesser-known major that welcomed rural, campesino, and Indigenous people like me,” he says. This experience awakened him to the imbalance of power, and from there, he became interested in the promotion of human rights and the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Cliver is also concerned about the struggles of Indigenous Peoples in terms of justice and health, having worked within the Peruvian Health System during the pandemic. He recalls the case of a patient diagnosed with COVID-19 admitted to the hospital where he worked. “His case was really serious and he was taken directly to the intensive care unit. The patient’s family were campesinos, but they pretended not to be. The first thing they said, in a very agitated tone, was, ‘We already know why nobody wants to bring their sick to the hospital!’ The family started speaking in Aymara, the ancestral language of their region, and between tears and anger, they told me their relative was very ill and that the doctors were not giving them much information. This called me more than ever as a servant and authority to help them since my position was the intercultural delegate.”
Cliver began researching the situation of this patient and others in similar situations, and he implemented strategies to bring patients and families closer together. Families wrote letters to their relatives, created drawings expressing their affection, and made videos giving them encouragement. “I confess that I did this covertly, but the patients improved. This taught me a lesson: a community is not just a group of people, but an energy of people that forge, connect, and heal.” Although he faced reprimands for these actions and had to resign from his position, he believes he acted for the well being of those who needed it.
Now, in a much different work environment, Cliver says, “I’m thrilled to be part of an organization whose conviction is real and not speculative, and whose work can be proven. In Cultural Survival, Indigenous people work and do a lot for other Indigenous people without resorting to paternalism. By joining this team, I’m adding strengths to our shared goal of seeking honor and respect for Indigenous and Native Peoples worldwide and making the world a better place. I hope to stay and grow within Cultural Survival as it fulfills not only my professional expectations, but also my expectations for life and actions for our Peoples.”
Photos by Cliver Ccahuanihancco.