by Shelley Bluejay Pierce
January 31, 2009
Led by Indigenous people from all across Latin America, over 1000 participants formed a human banner, using their bodies, to draw attention to the increasingly precarious situation of the Amazon rainforest. The wording was formed around the massive silhouette of an indigenous warrior taking aim with a bow and arrow. photo courtesy of Lou Dematteis/Spectral Q.
BELEM, Brazil- As world leaders focus on severe economic crisis in their homelands, an estimated 100,000 activists traveled from all over the world to attend the World Social Forum in Brazil. Critical environmental impacts in the Amazon rainforest regions brought Indigenous tribal representatives from across Latin America, environmentalists and supporters together for the multi-day event. One full day during the World Social Forum will focus on issues impacting the Amazon rainforest and the resident tribal nations who dwell there.
Prior to constructing the human-banner, Brazil’s leading Amazonian Indigenous organization, COIAB, released this statement:
“With the permission of our ancestors’ spirits, we indigenous peoples are here with our friends from all corners of the earth. We build this symbol with our bodies as the cry of living beings from this green forest, this planet, for our continuity as humans and diverse creatures. The symbol of the bow and arrow has three meanings: The first, our aim that every man, woman, and child will decide to care for our planet; The second, the position of defending the rights of indigenous peoples, of nature, of the planet, and of our home the Amazon; The third, to send a message to the world so that each of us helps to protect our home, our air, our water, our food. The Datsiparabu ceremony is the purification of our minds, our spirit, our soul, and our hearts. Save the Amazon!”
These words and their message resonate with Indigenous peoples worldwide who face the destruction of their lands, culture and traditions. Mining operations, agricultural development and the endless grab for unoccupied land have forced millions of indigenous people worldwide from their traditional homelands and traditional ways.
Across the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries, the Indigenous people are uniting and waging their own wars against the ruination of their lands. Governmental policies, often times made with little to no involvement by the Indigenous representatives, have decimated entire tribal groups and wrecked havoc with sensitive ecosystems. The remnants of post-mineral extraction, often grossly unregulated and mismanaged, have left their people to contend with death or illness, lack of safe water supplies and other toxic contaminations. Agricultural developments have stripped the land of needed indigenous plant species and animals and forced many tribes far from the lands they have inhabited for centuries.
Fighting onto the world’s political and environmental stage has not come easily, or quickly enough, to save many Indigenous peoples from the disastrous impacts of global resource development. One such case involves the landmark case against Chevron-Texaco and oil exploration in Ecuador. Contamination from petro-chemicals led to scientific reports revealing local water samples with toxic chemical levels thousands of times higher than permitted by Ecuadorian and U.S. environmental laws. Ecuadorian cancer rates were highest in the region where Texaco operated its drilling operations. The toxic waste may have contributed to hundreds of lives lost, the extinction of one Indigenous group and the endangerment of two others.
(see related article at: http://www. chevrontoxico. com/article. php?id=362)
“Indigenous people hold their traditional weapons skyward as they formed the human banner ‘SOS AMAZONIA’ Organizing and filming lasted almost and hour at the UFRA’s (Federal Rural University) main field. Technical assistance was provided by Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network, and Spectral Q.”
photo courtesy of Lou Dematteis/Spectral Q.
As tribal leaderships around the world learn the legal and political protocols required to navigate their way through the various jurisdictions surrounding them, environmental and scientific communities are joining forces with them. Together, they are forming new alliances aimed at bringing global awareness to the plight of the very habitats that sustain the world. In this sense, the Amazon rainforests’ health and survival are not only critical to the survival of the Indigenous people there, but to the entire planet as well.
Sometimes referred to as the, “Lungs of our Planet,” the rainforest ecosystem works by continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. Some estimates state that more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen supplies comes from the Amazon Rainforest. With an estimated 10 million species of plants and one-fifth of the world’s fresh water supply located in the Amazon Basin, protecting this area from destruction is not a local issue but a global issue of great concern.
Echoing the call to action during the World Social Forum, Atossa Soltani, Executive Director, Amazon Watch stated, “It is urgent that the world act now to stop deforestation and to recognize the importance of the Amazon in stabilizing our climate. There needs to be an immediate halt to industrial resource extraction that is bringing the ecosystems and cultures of the Amazon to the brink of collapse.”
Vast swathes of rainforest have been clear cut which data suggests is responsible for one fifth of the annual global carbon emissions, roughly equivalent to all the automobile emissions. Some 17 to 20 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in the last 40 years, with another estimated 20 percent having been fragmented or degraded. New road construction, expansion of agriculture, and mining for resources such as oil, gas, and precious metals are only a portion of the impacts severely altering the face of the rainforest.
Scientists are concerned that the Amazon forest will reach an irreversible ecological ‘tipping point’ that would forever change the ecosystem from rainforest to savannah. This event is estimated to release at least 76 gigatons of carbon, now stored in the forest ecosystems, into the atmosphere. Data suggests this amount is comparable to roughly 15 years worth of all human-caused emissions, and will exacerbate global climate change.
Since 2000, South American governments have been discussing a framework for continent-wide infrastructure projects along nine geographic corridors, including the Amazon. Known as IIRSA, the Initiative for the Integration of Infrastructure in the South American Region, these projects number over 500 and carry a staggering price tag estimated at a minimum of $70 billion. Financing has come from a number of sources, multi-lateral institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank and the Andean Development Corporation that have been powerful influences on IIRSA. Questions arise about the cumulative impacts such enormous projects will have upon the sensitive Amazon regions. Proponents to the initiative have not adequately provided the answers to these critical issues. Estimates state that the full implementation of IIRSA would result in a 50% reduction in the Amazon rainforest by 2050.
Indigenous communities, who are often those most effected by these projects, have not given consent nor been involved in the project planning for these massive developments. These enormous infrastructure projects bring the potential for escalated social conflicts across the regions, will apply negative impacts on Indigenous cultures and livelihoods, and accelerate deforestation. Without Indigenous community involvement, these impacts will likely continue and broaden in scope over time.
Marco Apurina, Vice-Coordinator of COIAB, an indigenous umbrella organization, said in earlier press reports during the World Social Forum, “We are the guardians of the forest. This is a critical moment for Indigenous peoples to unite with non-Indigenous, activists, teachers, environmentalists, unions, government—the Amazon rainforest needs everyone to work together now to defend it before it’s too late.”