By Janet Chernela
It is with great sadness that we report the death of William T. Vickers on Sept. 15, 2016. Bill, as he was known, was a leading scholar of native Lowland South America, a valued mentor, friend, spouse, colleague, and dedicated advocate of the Ecuadorian Siona-Secoya people with whom he worked for five decades. At the time of his death he was Professor Emeritus of Anthropology (Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies) at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami. His tenure at FIU lasted over a quarter century during which he was recognized for excellence in teaching no less than three times.
Bill received his PhD at the University of Florida where he worked with Charles Wagley and Paul Doughty, both of whom became life-long friends. His work, conducted in Ecuador and Peru, focused primarily on the human ecology of indigenous communities, native land and civil rights, and frontier development. He was particularly interested in studying the interrelationships among people, nature, and culture and how these evolve through time. Issues include the sustainability of hunting around native Amazonian settlements, the dynamics of shifting cultivation, forest resource use and ethnobotany, and the determinants of settlement patterns in Amazonian societies. He has written on frontier expansion and how it affects indigenous societies, including their social and political responses to externally-imposed pressures.
Throughout his lifetime, Bill remained an ardent and dedicated advocate of the Siona-Secoya people of Ecuador’s Oriente. In 1994 he founded the The Siona-Secoya Foundation, Inc, which supported innovative projects in education, health, art, and infrastructure. It regularly supplied tools, computers, printers, and typewriters to the communities. Bill also played an important role in focusing international attention on the impacts of colonization and oil development. Between 1999-2001, he and Ted Macdonald served as international observers for negotiations between the Organización Indígena Secoya del Ecuador (OISE) and the Occidental Exploration and Production Company concerning exploration for oil on native lands. The work led to an unprecedented “Code of Conduct,” with informed consent procedures and community environmental oversight. The achievements put in place policies to ensure community involvement and dialogue about oil activity on their land.
Bill’s books include Los Sionas y Secoyas: Su Adaptación al Ambiente Amazónico (reprinted twice), Useful Plants of the Siona and Secoya Indians and Adaptive Responses of Native Amazonians. He was a Fulbright Fellow in Ecuador, a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the School of American Research in Santa Fe, and a Doherty Foundation Fellow.
The amplitude of Bill Vickers’ life is kept alive in the memories of his wife, Edite Vargas de Souza Vickers, as well as his many friends, colleagues, and students whom his work and life influenced and touched.
A memorial session reflecting on Bill’s life and career was held at the 2017 SALSA conference in Lima.