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Indigenous housing Brazil ;

Indigenous peoples and climate change

Indigenous peoples, worldwide, protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity, despite representing approximately 5% of the world’s population. As the years pass, climate agreements among nations advance on paper, while the climate crisis worsens, and an extractive and industrial development model continues to expand. The consequence is the increase of the concentration of capital, resources, and power in the hands of a few at the expense of the environment and of forest peoples’ rights and territories, who are often at the frontier of such expansion. Such contradictions cannot result in a better future for humanity. Climate negotiations cannot neither overlook nor diminish indigenous peoples’ rights and cultures. In Brazil, there are approx 1 million indigenous people, with over 300 ethnic backgrounds and fluent in just over 200 languages.

Despite suffering more than 500 years from colonial interference in their lives, many of these people continue to occupy or to struggle for their ancestral lands in order to keep surviving on the basis of ancient principles that are common to many indigenous cultures. Such principles invoke the importance of living on Earth with a sense of gratitude, with a posture of reciprocity and respect towards other beings, and with a non-possessive attitude in relation to nature. As the Guarani leader Neusa Takua stated: “Guarani lives depend on the forest and the forest depends on the Guarani”. This differentiated approach to nature, which presupposes an intrinsic interconnection between humans and the environment, has much to teach us, from the West, about a path we should follow if we are to break off or survive a sixth mass species extinction: it advises that looking after all living beings – whether that is plants, animals or mountains – should be our central focus.

Notwithstanding, this is certainly not what is currently happening in the global dominant capitalist system, which continues to place value on profits above the value of life, disregarding the catastrophic moment the Planet is facing. A clear example can be illustrated by the voice and appeal of Maial Payakan, of the Kayapó people, who denounces the pressures that the Kayapó territory is currently suffering due to invasions of all types, especially from illegal mining and advancement of agribusiness.

The Kayapó territory is comprised of titled indigenous lands that protect over 9 million hectares of the Amazon. Nonetheless, their lands are situated in the deforestation frontier of the Brazilian Amazon, being constantly pressured from external actors and currently even more - given the vocal position of President Jair Bolsonaro in favour of mining and against the titling of indigenous lands. A great share of Brazil’s gold exports are illegal, and often come from indigenous lands. Indigenous peoples’ territorial rights cannot be overlooked in international climate negotiations, as their lands are the spaces that are still preserving vast landscapes we all depend on and therefore we must have co-responsibility.

Indigenous peoples’ cultures of resistance and regeneration must also not be ignored in this critical time of climate emergency. Kerexu Yxapyry, from the Guarani people of the Atlantic Forest, tells us that the colonisers arrived from the Atlantic Ocean and destroyed the Atlantic Forest, where very little remains. But the Guarani want to restore the forest and revert this destruction to help the Planet. For Tiago Karaí, also from the Guarani people, the titling of indigenous lands is central for keeping the forests standing.

High-level debates are focusing around conservation strategies to preserve 30% of the Planet in a natural state by the year 2030. A possibly more effective and straightforward solution would be to return the ancestral lands to indigenous peoples who are still fighting for their land titles and allow them to manage their territories in their own ways, while states and civil society organisations concentrate on managing the threats that are outside indigenous lands. This measure seems even more appropriate if we consider that indigenous lands are proven to preserve more than national parks and that the Amazon rainforest is close to reaching its tipping point – having already become a carbon source in its southeastern frontier.

What else should we wait for? Let’s partner with and support indigenous peoples’ rights and values to help place them at the core of climate negotiations! “We need to count on all the people of the world. Ñanderu [the Guarani Creator] created infinite love for the thinking beings to embrace Nature as part of our existence. Everyone is part of Nature’s balance” (Werá Tupã Popygua – Guarani spiritual leader).

About the author 

Carolina Comandulli

Dr Carolina Comandulli

Carolina Comandulli has been involved since the early 2000s with indigenous peoples in the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests, at a research, professional and personal levels, having occupied key positions from the government/policy building sector to direct work and engagement with civil society and local indigenous organisations. She held several positions at the National Foundation for Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI), has acted as a consultant for many NGOs, and currently works for the philanthropy sector. She is the co-founder of CLOSER, a multidisciplinary research group on Brazilian socio-environmental research and a member of the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) research group and of the Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability (CAoS). Carolina holds an MSc in Anthropology and Ecology of Development and a PhD in Anthropology, both from University College London.

Video contributions:

The Guarani Yvyrupa Commission (CGY) is an organisation founded and run by Guarani leaders from various villages located in the Atlantic Forest throughout South and Southeast Brazil.

Maial Paiakan Kaiapó

Maial Paiakan Kaiapó

Maial Paiakan Kaiapó is part of the Mẽbêngôkre-Kayapó people. She was raised at the A'ukre village, in the Kayapó Indigenous Land in the Pará state. She was the first Mẽbêngôkre woman to complete a Law Degree, having worked at the Court of Justice in Redenção – Pará and other law firms. She has also worked at the National Indian Foundation (Funai) in Brasilia on issues of territorial protection. Later she worked in the legal area and in the legal department for social control of the Special Secretariat for Indigenous Health (SESAI). She worked in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies and is currently studying Human Rights at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA).

Kerexu Yxapyry

Kerexu Yxapyry

Kerexu Yxapyry is a Mbya Guarani leader and the coordinator of the Guarani Yvyrupa Commission – an organization that acts in territorial defence of the Guarani people who live in the Atlantic Forest region southern and south-eastern Brazil. Kerexu Yxapyry is also one of the main female leaders of the National Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), Brazil’s largest indigenous movement. In her trajectory, she has worked vigorously for the ratification of the Indigenous Land Morro dos Cavalos and in the field of education and environment. She is an environmental manager who graduated from the UFSC (Federal University of Santa Catarina) and the founder of the Tataendy Rupa Training Center.

Tiago Karai

Tiago Karaí

Tiago Karaí is a young leader of the Tenondé Porã Indigenous Land, situated south of São Paulo state’s capital. He is a Tenondé (Executive) Coordinator of the Comissão Guarani Yvyrupa (CGY) representing the Guarani People living in the Atlantic Forest of the Southeast of Brazil. He represents a new generation of Guarani leaders in the struggle for land titling.

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