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On August 13th, indigenous women united in a historic march in Brazil, in a demonstration of feminine unity and to continue the indigenous movement across the Amazon, as reported by Amazon Frontlines. As the Amazon continues to burn, causing unimaginable deforestation, and with Brazil this week sending their army in to tackle the fires amid international outrage, it is imperative that the communities directly affected by these fires are not overlooked.
In Brazil’s capital, indigenous women carried banners emblazoned with “Territory: our body, out spirit,” making their voice heard to denounce the policies of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been accused of escalating racism and brutality, violating the rights of the indigenous communities, under whose watch the Amazon deforestation rates have rapidly increased. This march saw women from over 110 ethnic groups in Brazil showing solidarity and sharing their struggles in defence of their ancestral rainforest homelands.
The march appeared to have two objectives: to resist against Bolsonaro’s destruction of the Amazon and disregard and “genocidal policies” against the indigenous communities, reports The Globe Post. Leader of Indigenous rights group the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasi, Sônia Guajajara, spoke during the event, saying, “we don’t have to accept the destruction of our rights […],” with organizers adding that the march was to show strength and rouse empowerment of women in indigenous communities, reports the BBC. So, who is Bolsonaro and why has he been dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics”?
Indigenous Amazonian chieftains warned the world about Bolsonaro; however, their efforts were ignored and he took office in July. According to Indian Country Today, scientists have counted 72,843 fires in the Amazon this year, the highest number in recorded history, with 10,000 of these having erupted since Thursday last week. Climate change is normally the culprit, but scientists have found nothing abnormal in the climate, citing humans as the offender. National space researcher Alberto Setzer stated, “The dry season creates favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident […],” reports Indian Country Today. However, the indigenous communities say this is no accident due to Bolsonaro’s history of racism against them.
The Amazon is cared for by over a million indigenous people and the march last week was to denounce the president’s hateful discourse which has seen their territories destroyed. Alexandra Narvaez, the leader of the Cofán community, spoke at the march: “Today, as women, we are on the frontlines, it is no longer only the men! […] As women, we are uniting to protect our territories from destruction, and we are demanding that the governments respect our rights.” Nemonte Nenquimo, the leader of the Waorani community, added, “As women, we share the same vision, we want to continue organizing and uniting so that our cultures, our ancestral knowledge and our right to life be respected. We are fighting in the face of the enormous threats to our lands and lives. We want our forest to be free from contamination, free from destruction.”
With the Amazon often called “the lungs of the Earth,” Bolsonaro’s policies to open the rainforest to industries by allowing more mining and farming in the region, have faced international criticism, with activists and experts warning that such policies will have devastating environmental impacts, particularly in worsening climate change. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. rights chief, said in July, “[…] it is a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land – especially forests – by minors, loggers and farmers in Brazil.”
However, the march last week was a critical step in mounting effective opposition, with women across indigenous communities taking the lead in defending their rights, a move that was symbolic both historically and politically. The fire still burning in the Amazon has had lax media attention, but marches like this one are needed in order for the international community to build support for Brazil’s indigenous people who are being directly affected by the fires and by Bolsonaro’s “genocidal policies.”
Guajajara was quoted by Indian Country Today saying after the march, “[…] we are now counting on international solidarity to advance this movement for our future […].” The fire creating mass destruction should be of upmost importance to other international political leaders, activists, civilians, and anyone who wants to protect the rainforest which has long been recognized as a repository of ecological services not only for the local tribes and communities but for the rest of the world. It is the only rainforest that we have left in terms of size and diversity, and it is of great importance that the indigenous communities that defend it are protected themselves.