“The Brazilian authorities have abandoned us and are not doing their duties to protect our land from illegal loggers and land grabbers. Now it’s in our own hands.”
That sentence was repeated often during my first encounter with the Karipuna people in February 2018. The Karipuna are an Indigenous community in the state of Rondônia, Brazil. Even though they live in an officially protected area in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, only 58 of them remain. Just a few weeks before I met with them, FUNAI’s (the Brazilian governmental agency for Indigenous issues) closest office had been set on fire, leaving the Karipuna alone and vulnerable. This violent act is just one example of how alarming their situation has become. Brazil is the deadliest country for environmental activists and land defenders, and the Karipuna themselves face constant death threats.
The Karipuna Indigenous land has never been under such serious attack. Ratified in 1998, their 152,930-ha territory has one of the highest rates of deforestation of all Indigenous areas in the Amazon. They are surrounded by cattle farms and destroyed rainforests, and a view on google earth is enough to show the scale of deforestation around their territory. Illegal roads lead toward and into their land, invading the forest deeper and deeper, allowing loggers to have more access to their territory. In the first half of 2017, more than 1000 hectares of forest were taken down, an area the size of about 1000 soccer fields. Most of the destruction remains almost invisible to satellites since small areas are cleared (sometimes, it’s single trees like the precious Ipê, that are cut down and sold.)
Although the Karipuna face death threats and blackmailing from the logging industry, they stand strong to protect the forest and their community. But they cannot do this alone. It’s time for the Brazilian government to start fulfilling those promises and its constitutional duties and protecting the Indigenous People who are under constant attack from an industry seeking profits at all costs.
Hope was sparked during our meeting with the Karipuna in February when we discussed how to end the illegal invasion of their land. It was clear to us that we had to stand with the Karipuna in their struggle to protect their land. By using modern satellite mapping and monitoring techniques, the Karipuna, Greenpeace Brazil and CIMI are working together to identify those responsible for ongoing illegal trespassing and deforestation and hold them accountable.
The voices of the Karipuna must be heard, which is why Adriano—one of their leaders—is travelling to New York to speak at the UN meeting on Indigenous Issues. He will bring the hopes of his people to the international community. This could be one of their last chances to protect their culture, language and community, and prevent further destruction to the forest they depend on to survive. We need to make sure the world knows Adriano and the Karipuna’s story. We need to stand with the guardians of the Amazon.
Oliver Salge is the Greenpeace project leader of All eyes on the Amazon, based in Brazil.