There is nothing quite like flying over the Brazilian Amazon. The forest spreads out like an endless green carpet, crisscrossed by ribbons of water, and goes on for as far as the eye can see. Banks of clouds break up the vast sky. As the green of the mighty Tapajós River comes into view, I know we’ve entered the territory of the Munduruku Indigenous People – my hosts for the coming days.
Greenpeace is working alongside the Munduruku to push for formal recognition of their land and to halt the massive São Luiz do Tapajós (SLT) hydrodam planned for the Tapajós River, in the very heart of the Amazon. I have come to meet with the Munduruku chiefs and show our global support for the protection of the Tapajós and the rights of the Munduruku who have lived here for generations.
The Munduruku are the protectors of this remarkable part of the Amazon – home to rare species like the pink river dolphin and the jaguar. There appears a seamless connection between their river, their forest and them. They are a living part of each other. I asked one of the first women caciques (chiefs) of a Munduruku village about the Tapajós, and her words stuck with me: “The river is our blood. Not only mine but ours. The river wants to stay alive… The river is crying… The animals… don’t know what’s coming to kill them.”
Together with caciques from across the Munduruku territory, I had a chance to see first-hand the damage that damming the Tapajós would cause to their land. We flew over two Amazon dams, one currently under construction, and the difference between the green Amazon forest of the Munduruku territory and these places was stark. What once was jungle, now is a maze of dirt roads and an enormous construction site. Where there were rivers, now are flooded areas – grey forests, drowned and dying, leaking climate-warming methane into the atmosphere. With the construction comes serious social problems as well. The lives of the communities around these dams has been fundamentally changed, and the heart of the Amazon rainforest is made more vulnerable as another way into the forest has been constructed by the dams’ development.
This is why the Munduruku are pushing for their traditional land to be formally recognised by the Brazilian government. If the Munduruku land is officially recognised, it makes the construction of the dam illegal. But the path to formal recognition has pitfalls. A recent report published by the Brazilian Indigenous Rights Department (FUNAI) recognised this land as traditionally Munduruku, and the Environmental Agency (IBAMA) even put the SLT dam on hold in response, but nothing is final. Given the volatility in the Brazilian political system at the moment, this tentative recognition could be shelved at any time.
So the Munduruku are seizing the moment and undertaking an unofficial, community-led demarcation of their land. They are marking their land with signs to indicate it is Munduruku territory – a process normally executed by the federal government – to pressure the government to grant formal and permanent recognition of their territory and stop the dam.
While the Munduruku are working to get official recognition and the rights that come with it, the rest of us also have a role to play: making this local fight a global one. We must be vocal in our support of Munduruku land rights. They are the best guardians of this river and the forest. We must also ensure that global companies considering becoming involved in this project stay away. That means calling on multinational corporations like Siemens to confirm they will not participate in the dam project if it moves forward. Siemens, which likes to brand itself as a green company, was already involved in the controversial Belo Monte dam – the most recent destructive dam to be built in the Amazon. The dam is mired in lawsuits and corruption scandals, and so far it has failed to deliver on its energy promise.
Our best chance to protect this incredible part of the Amazon is to stand with the people who have lived in and protected it for centuries. So, hammer in hand, I will help affix signs marking this land as Munduruku territory while I am here. And after I leave this place, I will continue to call on people like Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens, to recognise that the Tapajós is too precious to destroy – and it is in all of our interests that it is the Munduruku, not corporations, who have the final say.
This is a story of what is right and wrong in the world. Join me in asking Siemens to distance itself from this project, and stand with the Munduruku people.
Bunny McDiarmid is the Executive Director for Greenpeace International.
This blog was originally posted by the Huffington Post.
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