As Amazon rainforest burns, Indigenous women call on world for support
Indigenous Amazonian chieftains warned the world about Bolsonaro. The right-wing authoritarian known as the ‘Trump of the Tropics’ took Brazil’s presidential office in July. And now the Amazon is on fire.
Scientists count 72,843 fires in the Amazon this year, the highest number in recorded history. Roughly 10,000 of these have erupted since Thursday last week. And no, it’s not climate change at work.
In the midst of the fires, Indigenous women leaders are calling out to the world in need of support. Many claim Bolsonaro’s ideologies are spawning race-based retaliations, and the Amazon is suffering.
Scientists find ‘nothing abnormal in the climate,’ citing humans as firestarters
Scientists at Brazil’s national space research institute say they find no meteorological abnormality that could encourage the forest fires. During the month of June, however, the Brazilian Amazon suffered an 88 percent increase in deforestation, and the current number of wildfires is 83 percent higher than the same time last year.
“There is nothing abnormal about the climate this year or the rainfall in the Amazon region, which is just a little below average,” says national space researcher Alberto Setzer. “The dry season creates favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”
No accident, say Indigenous communities. Their reports point to cattle ranchers and profit-motivated companies — emboldened by Bolsonaro’s anti-Indigenous hostility — who have been starting the fires with petrol bombs.
“I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame,” Bolsonaro told reporters. He recently fired the INPE’s director after criticizing their findings of the increase in deforestation.
Indigenous women mobilize as the voice of the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest, the world’s largest, provides us all with one-fifth of the oxygen we breathe, as well as one-fifth of our fresh water. It’s one of Earth’s biggest carbon sinks. It’s home to 6,000 animal species and 40,000 plant species. Although they’re responsible for two-thirds of cancer-combatting medicines, 99 percent of these rainforest plant species have still never been studied by western scientists for their healing power.
The Amazon is cared for by over a million Indigenous people and at least 100 "uncontacted" tribes, more than anywhere else in the world.
Last week, thousands of Indigenous women in leadership mobilized to march in protest in Brasília.
“We came to denounce the president’s hateful discourse, which has increased violence and destruction in our territories, which directly impacts us, women,” said Sônia Guajajara, former vice-presidential candidate and current leader of Indigenous rights group the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Brazil’s Indigenous People Articulation) or APIB.
“For the first time in history, the Indigenous women’s march convenes more than 100 different peoples in Brasilia with more than 2,000 women present,” says the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasi’s Célia Xacriabá. “This is a movement that is not only symbolically important but also historically and politically significant. When they try to take away our rights, it’s not enough to only defend our territories. We also need to occupy spaces beyond our villages, such as institutional spaces and political representativity.”
Indigenous women leaders call for international support
Xacriabá is asking people outside of the Amazon to support their voices in opposition to Bolsonero’s campaign of terror and destruction. “We call on the international community to support us, to amplify our voices and our struggle against today’s legislative genocide, where our own government is authorizing the slaughter and ethnocide of indigenous peoples. This is also an opportunity to join our voices to denounce this government’s ecocide, where the killing of mother nature is our collective concern."
“We are counting on international solidarity to advance this movement for our future,” said Guajajara.
As of now, smoke from the burning Amazon can be seen from space and is blacking out the sun in cities over a thousand miles away.
Brian Oaster is a Choctaw writer and seventh-generation survivor of the Trail of Tears living in the Pacific Northwest. He studied international experimental animation. Follow him on Twitter: @brianoaster.