Community Development Leader
La Puente, New Mexico
Age: 50 at time of award
Published August 1, 1990
Maria Varela is a community organizer, a photographer, a teacher, a writer, and principal of the Rural Resources Group, an organization in the Albuquerque area that helps rural communities develop sustainable economies and environments.
Since 1962, Varela has been assisting indigenous leaders in their efforts to develop economic opportunity and protect cultural heritage within African-American, Native-American, and Mexican-American rural communities. She was instrumental in establishing a wool-growers cooperative, for example, that included a weaving and spinning enterprise, training in small business development, and cultural reaffirmation. Her approach is to create and enable nonprofit organizations and viable enterprises to build upon and add to existing local resources.
In 1981, Varela co-founded Ganados del Valle, a nonprofit, economic development corporation that helps predominantly Hispanic and Native-American communities in northern New Mexico, southern Colorado, and northeastern Arizona to preserve their pastoral cultures, lands, and water rights. She also serves as a visiting professor and coordinator of the Southwest Studies Regional Research Initiative at Colorado College.
Varela received a B.A. (1961) from Alverno College, Milwaukee and, under the auspices of the National Rural Fellows, received an M.A. (1982) from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Last updated January 1, 2005