August 9 is celebrated as World Indigenous People Day. There are an estimated 370 million indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 per cent of the world's population but account for 15 per cent of the poor. 

Indigenous peoples are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment. But despite their cultural differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples.

In honor of them, here is a list of five indigenous leaders from the Americas fighting for justice and human rights.

Miriam Miranda

Miriam Miranda has committed herself to shielding the cultural and land rights of the people of Garífuna in Honduras, and the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) is thriving under her sound leadership.  

Miranda was born in Santa Fe, Colon, a small Garífuna village located near Trujillo on the north coast of Honduras. At a very early age, Miriam and her family had to leave their village in order to find work and educational opportunities. But under her unwavering strength and leadership, OFRANEH and the Garífuna people have organized to defend their land and their culture.

They currently have two cases against the state of Honduras pending at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). In one of them Garífuna succeeded in bringing Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen to trial in Trujillo for his mega-tourism project illegally built on Garífuna land.

Although facing incredible risk because of the work they do — getting regularly and arbitrarily detained and being portrayed as criminals in the media — Miriam and her colleagues stand bravely in the face of such threats to ensure that Garífuna peoples' land and culture is protected. 

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Milagro Sala

Milagro Sala is considered to be the first political prisoner of Argentina President Mauricio Macri’s government. Sala is also a leader of the Tupac Amaru Neighborhood Association which focuses on Indigenous rights and other political issues in the country.

Sala is a lawmaker with Parlasur and also a part of the Association of State Workers (ATE) of Jujuy, and a leading figure in the Movimiento piquetero of Argentina. However, on January 16, 2016, Sala was arrested on charges of fraud and criminal conspiracy for alleged embezzlement of funds intended by the government to help the poor.

Several human rights organizations like Amnesty International denounced Argentina's government at the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (GAD) of the United Nations, citing Sala's illegal detention. 

Silvia Carrera

The Ngäbe-Buglé Comarca is the largest and most populous Indigenous administrative region in western Panama. It is home to immense wealth, both in copper and biotic resources, but sadly its Indigenous population lives in poverty and isolation in the absence of adequate state accountability.  

Amongst the chaos stands Silvia Carrera, the first woman chief and leader of resistance movements to block unwanted hydroelectric dam and copper mining projects on Indigenous territory. Carrera often plays the mediator between the government and her people regarding Indigenous rights and self-determination and has become a symbol of pride and encouragement for Indigenous women in Panama and across Latin America.

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Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic

Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic is a Guatemalan leader of Maya K’iche, an indigenous tribe of the Americaz and one of the descendants of the Maya peoples. 

Ixcaquic is an active defender of women's rights and the environment. She is a chief of the Council of K’iche’ Peoples in "defense of life, mother nature and the planet," and has continuously fought for the right of Indigenous people for self-determination, with a focus on the role of women in the movement against resource extraction. 

Ixcaquic has been an inspiration for a lot of women and has even received death threats, with one member of her team being assassinated June 12, 2012. However, that has not deterred her from following her cause.

 Nestora Salgado

Nestora Salgado is a resident of Seattle who returned to her native Mexico and led a legal community police force, which mounted patrols to protect residents from cartel operatives.

A dual US-Mexico citizen, Salgado was arrested in Aug. 2013 and spent more than two years in jail for her activism organizing autonomous police forces in the state of Guerrero.

However, a United Nations panel ruled that Mexico’s 2013 arrest of Salgado was illegal and released her in 2016. Salgado has still not given up her fight against drug cartels, giving hope to the people who support her cause.