People We Love: Maria Aguinda

An indigenous elder from the Amazon takes Chevron to court.
Maria Aguinda

Maria Aguinda is an elder of the Quechua indigenous people in Ecuador, and lead plaintiff of 30,000 in a lawsuit against oil multinational Chevron. Between 1964 and 1990, Chevron pumped over 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Amazonian environment. Plaintiffs believe this increased the local incidence of health problems, including cancer.

In February, after an 18-year legal battle, an Ecuadorian court awarded the plaintiffs $9.5 billion. It is the first time an indigenous group has won this type of environmental lawsuit in their own country.

Aguinda isn’t satisfied. The land that once met the food and medicinal needs of local people is nearly uninhabitable. On appeal, plaintiffs seek damages of more than $27 billion.

On days when Aguinda isn’t in court, she wakes up early and travels miles to find clean water. “Before I die they have to pay me for the dead animals, and for what they did to the river, and the water and the Earth,” she told AFP news.


  • After enduring years of toxic dumping and rising cancer rates, indigenous Ecuadorians took oil giant Chevron to court to fight for the life of the rainforest—and its people.

  • Indigenous leaders from Ecuador visited Louisiana to share what they learned in a decades-long battle with Texaco.