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"If you want to take care of the forest, you need to invest in us—Indigenous peoples—because no one takes better care of the forest than we do." (Photo: Amazon Watch)

Marking Earth Day, Indigenous People Worldwide to Fight Corporate Forces

'I know we are only of the size of a grain of sand but we make a huge difference' says Antonio Dace, of the Munduruku community in the Brazilian Amazon

Deirdre Fulton

Indigenous people and allies around the world are mobilizing this Earth Day to demand respect for community land rights in the name of the climate, biodiversity, and human rights.

"Peoples and local communities are the best guardians of their lands and forests, yet governments are giving the go-ahead to hydroelectric dams, industrial mining, predatory logging, extensive cattle ranching, and palm oil plantations that rob the forests' customary owners of their homes and livelihoods, and threaten the climate and resources we all depend on," declares a statement from organizers, who are operating under the umbrella of the global Land Rights Now campaign.

As Antonio Dace, a member of the Munduruku community along the Tapajós River in the Brazilian Amazon, put it: "If you want to take care of the forest, you need to invest in us—Indigenous peoples—because no one takes better care of the forest than we do."

The Earth Day mobilization, involving Indigenous peoples, local communities, social movements, environmental activists, and women's groups from around the world, will see close to 40 actions taking place in 27 countries over the next week, some in conjunction with like-minded initiatives including the March for Science on Saturday, the 10-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples beginning April 25, and the Peoples Climate March on April 29.

The actions began Thursday, with communities in the Brazilian Amazon, Kenya, Guatemala, and Taiwan demanding respect for their rights in response to threats from business and government interests pushing projects like mega-dams, coal plants, palm oil plantations, and private development in ancestral community forests.

"We're not anti-development, but no one in the world has ventured into coal mining and faced no long-term consequences," noted Ishaq Abubakar of the Lamu Youth Alliance in Kenya, where East Africa's first coal plant is proposed for the coastal community of Lamu. "Coal is dirty energy, and its effects are detrimental."

Added Lamu activist Walik Ahmed, who is part of the Save Lamu Coalition calling for the project's cancellation: "The whole world is worried about global warming and climate change. It can't be these things do not matter for Lamu."

The movement is particularly fired up in Brazil, where Indigenous people this week launched an online petition against what they describe as an "unprecedented attack" on their rights.

According to the petition, the right-wing government led by President Michel Temer and Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio has "slashed the budget and staff of Brazil's Agency for Indigenous Affairs, dealing a huge blow to the agency's work to grant legal titles for indigenous community territories. They're pushing through a constitutional amendment to suppress additional legal titling of ancestral indigenous lands, fulfilling a long-term goal of their allies in the agribusiness lobby. And they have advanced legislation to open up already-titled indigenous territories to massive mining and dam projects."

Failing to protect these lands puts Brazil at risk of failing to live up to its climate commitments, said Sônia Guajajara, national coordinator of Brazil's Association of Indigenous Peoples, who noted "the section of the Amazon forest under our protection stores 13 billion tons of carbon."

But "[t]hose behind the anti-Indigenous offensive will find growing resistance both from Indians and from other sectors of society," Indigenous rights activist Marcio Santilli told Mongabay earlier this month.

Indeed, the movement "plans a major show of strength with an event on 24-28 April," Mongabay reported. "The initiative, called the Acampamento Terra Livre (Free Land Camp), will bring together 1,500 Indigenous leaders from across the nation. They'll set up camp in Brasilia, host marches, debates, protests, and cultural events. The Indigenous leaders will also seek meetings with the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of the government. The aim is 'to unify struggles in defense of the Indian people'."

And in turn, to defend the earth.

"If it weren't for us, the cattle and the soy would have taken this whole forest," said Dace, of the Munduruku people. "I know we are only of the size of a grain of sand but we make a huge difference. The air you breathe comes from [the Amazon]. The water you drink comes from here. And so, by killing us, you are killing nature and therefore yourselves."

Watch below for more about the mobilization:


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