This Brazilian Tribe Is Pushing Back Against Bolsonaro’s Plans For Destruction
By Sofy Robertson
“Where there is indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it.” (NY Times)
Newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro has made his views on indigenous lands clear. He has promised to scale back enforcement of environmental laws, calling them an impediment to economic growth.
From 2006 to 2017, Brazil’s part of the Amazon lost roughly 91 890 square miles of forest cover.
Dinamã Tuxá, the coordinator of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples, said:
“He represents an institutionalization of genocide in Brazil.”
At the current rate of deforestation, experts are nearly certain that Brazil will miss some of the climate change mitigation goals set in 2009.
Thomas Lovejoy, an environmental science and policy professor at George Mason University said:
“The combined impacts of deforestation, climate change and extensive use of fire have brought the Amazon to the tipping point. The indigenous people, who are the best defenders of the land, become vulnerable if the forest vanishes.”
More than 896,000 indigenous people live in Brazil — less than 0.5 percent of the population. They belong to 300 tribes and speak more than 270 languages.
The indigenous people have suffered at the hands of illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon, particularly since the recession. Some tribes accepted deals with the miners, resulting in limited food and gold in exchange for mining the land.
The Munduruku tribe are just one of the indigenous peoples that have suffered invasions and destruction of their land. They live along the Tapajos River with around 14 000 members scattered across dozens of small villages. In 2015, miners appeared in the indigenous villages and as the camps multiplied, so did the influx of processed foods, alcohol, drugs and prostitution. Some Munduruku men were eager to make money but these outside vices soon took hold. Many Munduruku worried that their way of life was being irreparably altered.
Ezildo Koro Munduruku explained:
“We are sick, physically and spiritually. If one earns 100 grams of gold, they will spend it on alcohol and prostitutes.”
After three days of tense debate, the women of the tribe gave their final word:
“Paralyze illegal mining activity in the indigenous area; clean up the territory and expel all the invaders from Munduruku territory.”
Knowing the revolt was coming, the miners flew to the village by plane, bearing huge bags of rice, beans and pasta as peace offerings. Cleber da Silva Costa, one of the miners who bore the ‘gifts’, said he knew what he and his fellow miners were doing was illegal and harmful to the Amazon. He argued:
“If you didn’t have so many corrupt people in Congress, you might be able to consider preserving the environment […] We may be in the wrong. But out here, it’s the law of survival.”
Armed with various weapons, around thirty tribe members set out to evict the miners and protect their land, and their people, from further destruction.
After trekking for more than six hours through the unforgiving territory of the Amazon, the Munduruku arrived at the first gold mining camp exhausted and hungry. In a disarming gesture, the camp supervisor, Amarildo Dias Nascimento, welcomed the delegation and instructed his cooks to put on a feast. Nascimento argued that he and his miners have been “left without options” and were doing what they needed to survive.
The next morning, the miners and Munduruku came together again. Maria Leusa Kabá, one of the women leading the revolt, told the miners:
“This is our land. This territory is not yours. This is where we get sustenance for our children. We don’t depend on gold, but rather the fruits and animals you are driving away.”
The miners listened and Nascimento said:
“The moment you ask us to leave, we will do it immediately.”
The Munduruku left to move on to the next mining camp, uncertain when, or even if, the miners would leave.
Bolsonaro has made no secret of his dislike for the indigenous population of the country he now leads, saying:
“If it were up to me, we would not have any more indigenous areas in the country.”
Tribes like the Munduruku understand the importance of preserving the land and the people that signify the country’s history. There is no doubt that the tribes’ people and many of the citizens of Brazil will continue to struggle to recover from the recession. The Munduruku have shown their strength in pushing back against the illegal mining that threatens to destroy them. They hope that their actions will inspire more tribes to stand against the destruction of their home.