Stories articles Amazonia

Left to Right: Tabea Casique (Ashéninka, Peru), Beto Marubo (Marubo, Brazil), Cylene France (Lokono, Suriname), Jaime Palomino (Shuar Arutam, Ecuador), Jean La Rose (Lokono, Guyana), Oswald Castizo (Tanimuca, Colombia). Photo by Kamikia Kisedje.

Left to Right: Tabea Casique (Ashéninka, Peru), Beto Marubo (Marubo, Brazil), Cylene France (Lokono, Suriname), Jaime Palomino (Shuar, Ecuador), Jean La Rose (Lokono, Guyana), Oswald Castizo (Tanimuca, Colombia). Photo by Kamikia Kisedje.


July 3, 2024

Indigenous Messages from the Amazon Rainforest

Luana Polinesio

During the first meeting of Nia Tero’s Indigenous partners and allies in the Amazon region, Indigenous leaders from six Amazonian countries reflected on the challenges and threats they face in their territories as well as their hopes and dreams for the region's future.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, spanning more than 7 million square kilometers (approximately 2.7 million square miles) – an area twice the size of India. It is the homeland of hundreds of Indigenous Peoples who have nurtured and sustained the forest for millennia.

Despite the brutalities inflicted upon them during colonization, Indigenous Peoples have shown remarkable resilience. To this day, they have successfully defended much of their territories, contributing to a healthier planet for all. Their ongoing battle to safeguard their ancestral lands is a testament to their resistance as new challenges arise every day.

“The territory is everything to us,” says Beto Marubo (Marubo People) from the Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Univaja) in the Brazilian Amazon. “All of our traditional and cultural references are connected to the land. Without it, we are just homeless,” he explains, underscoring the critical importance of Indigenous Peoples' territories.

Marubo’s struggle to defend the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land, the second largest Indigenous land in Brazil covering an area the size of Portugal, has many parallels to the challenges faced every day by Indigenous Peoples throughout the Amazon rainforest. The perpetrators of the threats may vary – mining, deforestation, extractive industries, and invasions, to cite a few – but the lack of recognition of Indigenous territorial rights (at different levels among countries) and the lack of respect for their autonomy on how to manage and sustain their territories are a tough reality present across Amazonian countries.

“The importance of titling and demarcation is that you have other interests who are vying for the same land. Guyana is rich in minerals, gold, diamonds, and so forth,” says Jean La Rose (Lokono Nation), the Executive Director of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), exemplifying the threats that Indigenous Peoples face in Guyana. “We have had a history of mining for decades, and we have had conflicts around Indigenous land ownership for their lands and territories when it comes to mining.”

Although the challenges and threats are high, the Amazon is also filled with hopes and dreams for a future where Indigenous rights are respected, and Indigenous stewardship of their lands is recognized as the main solution to address the climate and biodiversity crises.

As explained by Cylene France (Lokono Nation) from the Association of Indigenous Village Leaders of Suriname (VIDS) in Suriname, the solutions that Indigenous Peoples have to offer the world regarding climate change mitigation are directly linked to their way of living, their traditional knowledge, and culture. “Our tradition teaches us to respect natural resources. And I believe that is what we have to offer the world, to have more respect for nature. And, of course, the people who are directly dependent on nature, that we should also protect them. It’s not only about nature, but it's also about [Indigenous] People who are a very important part of the world that we are living in.”

Nia Tero: Building Pathways to Support a Blooming Future in the Rainforest

Nia Tero is committed to working alongside Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon to strengthen, amplify, and maintain guardianship of 69 million hectares of thriving forest landscapes. Through long-term trusted partnerships, Nia Tero supports 36 Indigenous organizations and their trusted allies in exercising their territorial rights, bolstering governance of their communities, and asserting their own vision of well-being.

At the beginning of April 2024, Nia Tero held a meeting with representatives from organizations based across the countries where Nia Tero holds partnerships – Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru – to generate the exchange of knowledge and experiences between the organizations and shared learnings from their experiences and practices, as well as to strengthen ties and networks in the region.

During the meeting, which took place in Bogota, Colombia, Indigenous leaders discussed themes that encompassed the strengthening of governance in Indigenous territories, cultural revitalization, the role of women within territorial development and defense of territory, security, protection of leaders and community in general, cross-border alliances between organizations, and the pressures of illegal mining and threats from extractive industries, among other issues.

Nia Tero spoke with representatives from each country during the gathering about the main threats they face in their territories and their dreams and hopes for the future. Below is a summary of these conversations.


Colombia

Oswald Muca Castizo (Tanimuca People), General Coordinator at the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC):

Through the Indigenous knowledge systems, there is an interrelation between Mother Nature and humanity, in this case, Indigenous Peoples. Why do we protect it? Because that's life. Everything we do with Mother Nature is done with permission. Mother Nature gives us all: the water, the fish, and the animals we eat. We do not destroy her; we see in her a mechanism that supports our lives.

This is my dream, to be able to govern our territory in a very calm and efficient way so that one day we can say: We truly are governing and deciding on our politics, with our knowledge systems, based on our origin.

Ecuador

Jaime Palomino (Shuar People), President of the Shuar Arutam People (PSHA):

The current threats are government policies that favor the mining industry. 56% of the Shuar Arutam People’s territory is licensed, which is a concern for us because more than half of our territory will be devastated when these large-scale, open-pit mega-mining projects are carried out. A territory that has a lot of diversity, water sources, primary forests, and waterfalls. We have caves that are very sacred places for us, Shuar. There is no open-pit mining project that doesn’t destroy the environment.

Brazil

Beto Marubo (Marubo People), Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (Univaja):

In Brazil, the main problem is related to the importance of the territory because everything for us, Indigenous Peoples, is directly linked to the issue of territory. Our traditional and cultural references, everything, is connected to the land. Without this land, we are just homeless.

My biggest dream is that Brazilian society gives importance to environmental issues much more than other interests that we see as superfluous. They must recognize, be able to understand and immerse themselves in this issue with the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil. We are brothers from the same territory.

Peru

Tabea Casique (Ashéninka People), member of the Board of the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (Aidesep):

In the spaces where I have participated, in the COPs, where the State Parties agree to serve, to preserve and protect biodiversity and forests, often, we don’t see effective participation in coordination with Indigenous Peoples. Meanwhile, we live there [forests], and we look at the territory in a holistic manner.

Suriname

Cylene France (Lokono Nation), Association of Indigenous Village Leaders of Suriname (VIDS):

The main threats that our Indigenous Peoples in Suriname are facing with regards to our territory is, first and foremost, the non-recognition, legal recognition, of our territories. This, of course, has a lot of impact on our communities and on our territories because we have no legal means to address the abuse of this right to our territories.

The solutions that Indigenous Peoples have to offer the world regarding climate crisis, I would say, have a lot to do with our way of living, our traditional knowledge, and our culture. We are prohibited from destroying our environment and our natural resources. Our tradition teaches us to respect natural resources. And I believe that is what we have to offer the world, to have more respect for nature. And, of course, the people who are directly dependent on nature, that we should also protect them. It’s not only about nature, but it's also about [Indigenous] people who are a very important part of the world that we are living in.

Guyana

Jean La Rose (Lokono Nation), Executive Director of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA):

The main threat affecting Indigenous territories in Guyana is the lack of traditional recognition of traditional lands. We do have some legislative recognition in Guyana, but it does not take into account traditional ownership, and, therefore, many communities have had problems having their total description of the land area identified and, therefore, boundaries demarcated as well.

The importance of titling and demarcation is that you have other interests who are vying for the same land. Guyana is rich in minerals, gold, diamonds, and so forth. We have had a history of mining for decades, and we have had conflicts around Indigenous land ownership for their lands and territories when it comes to mining. And the mining interest is increasing, it’s not getting smaller, and, therefore, the threat is increasing.


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Amazonia