Gabriel Leao*

Republished from the Americas Program, September 8, 2023,

"We expected the Brazilian government to have opened these doors for Indigenous peoples. We don't need three or four minutes–we need to have an amicable conversation with those interested in keeping the Amazon breathing and keeping Indigenous peoples alive. Sooner or later this door will open."

While the media's attention was focused on the politicians and their entourages, the indigenous assembly revealed the fundamental fault in government planning for protection of the Amazon. Even before the meeting, indigenous organizations and allies issued a statement decrying the lack of conditions for indigenous participation in the summit. The missive concluded: "to address the Amazon agenda without the effective participation of the Indigenous Peoples that inhabit it, shows the lack of awareness of how we live, and the roles we play in favor of maintaining and defending the forests."

Researcher and activist Priscila Olliveira from Survival International's Brazilian chapter told the Americas Program, "It is alarming that Indigenous peoples weren't summoned to a central place at the table since they have been the best guardians of the Amazon Forest for millennia."

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) considered the presidents' "Letter From Belém" insufficient due to the lack of concrete goals. In a public statement, APIB's executive coordinator Kleber Karipuna stated the following: "The document should be more ambitious. We understand there is a diversity of perspectives involving eight countries, and we recognize that political commitments were made, but the absence of specific and objective goals related to indigenous peoples and the environment is frustrating."

Olliveira agreed that the state leaders fell short in their closing declaration. "Although (the Summit) made important statements regarding Indigenous rights, including those of the isolated communities, it didn't establish goals and real actions to be taken by countries."

Olliveira added: "The main question is: 'Will the governments really put the survival and welfare of Indigenous peoples over profits?' This is the main issue. To date, every country covered by the Amazon Forest has not shown that willingness."

Indigenous women take the lead

The Assembly highlighted how Indigenous women's leadership is increasing in the region. Indigenous women's groups including the UMIAB and the National Articulation of Ancestral Indigenous Women Warriors(Articulação Nacional das Mulheres Indégenas Guerreiras da Ancestralidade, ANMIGA), which came with nine women hailing from different biomes., participated actively in deliberations and decisions.

Their influence came out strongly, especially in point 15 of the letter published: "Guarantee and defend the bodies and territories and autonomy of women, and demand the right to a dignified life for Indigenous, black, Quilombola, Andean and peasant women and women of diversity, respecting their culture and ancestral identity in the face of the offensive of neoliberal and patriarchal extractivism. Eradicate all discrimination against women in public establishments and punish all types of violence, sexual violence, femicide, violation of sexual and reproductive rights that impact the lives and bodies of women, girls, their cultures and their worldviews."

The specific attention to how gender affects those living and fighting for the Amazon is a direct result of women being part of discussions and representing themselves.

"It took many years of struggle to occupy this space by women leaders. Our male leaders joined hands so that this space could also be conquered, because they understood that women's participation was needed within in these decision-making spaces," Taurepang said.

She explained, "There was a whole process of preparation for our leaders to occupy this space today, not only to be here, but actually to offer answers to entire indigenous populations that needed to hear the voices of women leaders, with their own autonomous action for their people."

"Indigenous women are also capable of leaving the village grounds to lead. There are several institutions that for centuries were occupied only by the White man, but today we are experiencing a new moment of building by the indigenous movement. There's a Ministry of Indigenous Peoples created and managed by a Guajajara Woman (Sônia Guajajara), and an indigenist public agency – FUNAI – led by a Wapichana woman (Joênia Wapichana). These are the results of the struggles of several leaders who never gave up believing that one day their collective goals would succeed."

Taurepang stated that the unity of Amazon peoples has led to some improvements in recent years in employment and land demarcation, as well as access to education and health care. Pressure from organized Indigenous groups has pushed Brazil's Supreme Court to vote soon on the land demarcation issue.

NGOs like Olliveira's also participated in the Peoples' Assembly. She explained that the role of the NGOs was to express the need for Indigenous demands to be a core part of official negotiations and to exert pressure so that the actions by the governments don't end up being "new greenwashing, like carbon credit projects that seem to protect Indigenous territories, but in fact violate their rights, the right for free, prior and informed consent."

Although Indigenous peoples have entered the official halls of powers as politicians and have been given more attention by mainstream media than in the past, they still have an uphill battle to assure that their voices and proposals are heard. Despite some advances, their Assembly showed how out of touch state leaders are in terms of real, on-the-ground solutions to the looming crisis.

Below is the English translation by the Americas of the open letter from the 'Peoples of the Earth for the Amazon'. The original can be found here:

Peoples of the Earth for the Amazon

Nothing about us without us!

We are the peoples of the Amazon, the largest tropical forest in the world, which regulates the planet's climate. We live in rivers, forests, fields and cities. We suffer from the devastation, invasions, poisoning and destruction of our territory. We know that attacks against the Amazon are attacks against the planet and the peoples of the world. Therefore, gathered in assembly in the city of Belém, we demand that our governments declare a state of climate emergency in our region and also adopt the following measures:

  1. Take all necessary measures to avoid the Amazon's point of no return, protecting 80% of its territory by 2025, through a plan that guarantees: a) the cessation of all illegal deforestation by 2025, b) achieving zero legal deforestation by 2027, c) repeal the laws and provisions that promote the destruction of the Amazon, and d) rehabilitate, recover and restore deforested and degraded areas.
  2. Give out titles for 100% of the territorial claims of indigenous peoples, afro-descendants, quilombolas and traditional communities, ensuring global security (legal and physical) of collective ownership of indigenous territories, respect and territorial protection of isolated indigenous peoples and the guarantee of a gender perspective in land distribution and titling.
  3. Considering that the environmental and social costs of oil research and exploration in the Amazon are greater than the economic benefits generated, it is essential to accelerate the energy transition, stop promoting new research and exploration in the Amazon and promote a fair, popular and inclusive energy transition plan, with reparations for the affected peoples and territories.
  4. Express our full support for the YES vote in the referendum in Ecuador, to leave oil underground in the mega-diverse zone of Yasuné. With that, we send a message to the world from the Amazon, to tackle climate change and extractivism and defend life. We also support the demands of organizations in Brazil and Guyana, which have won victories against the expansion of hydrocarbons on their coasts.
  5. Demand that the governments of the countries that have historically caused the most climate change fulfill their commitments made more than a decade ago to provide 100 billion dollars a year to developing countries for the energy transition, which we defend as a socio-ecological transition.
  6. Demand that the nine governments of the Amazonian countries comply with their outstanding climate commitments and substantially increase their Nationally Determined Contributions to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, in accordance with the goals established in this document regarding the elimination of deforestation and exit from oil exploration.
  7. Guarantee the effective participation of the peoples of the Amazon throughout the energy production chain, as part of the planning, management and governance processes, for the construction of a fair, popular and inclusive energy transition.
  8. Halting the expansion of the agricultural frontier: a) sanctioning those responsible for the displacement and expropriation of land in the Amazon, b) strengthening alternatives for an agroecological transition, of agroforestry production and community ecotourism, c) guaranteeing that Amazonian products to be exported or consumed nationally and internationally do not contribute to deforestation, degradation and pollution.
  9. Amazonian cities must be built in harmony with nature and provide a dignified life for their inhabitants. For this reason, they need to be planned democratically, guaranteeing a healthy, safe environment for their inhabitants, with public land regulation, adequate housing, the right to water and basic sanitation, mobility, food security, climate and environmental justice.
  10. Promote a transition plan to save the Amazon from mining and mercury pollution that (a) annually reduces the use of mercury and illegal mining until its total elimination; (b) prohibit mining activities in protected areas, and indigenous, ancestral and community territories; (c) carry out comprehensive medium-term environmental impact assessments of legal mining activities, to reinforce socio-environmental mitigation plans and establish the terms of their continuity and future closure; and (d) implement effective measures to remediate people's health and restore ecosystems affected by mercury and mining.
  11. Ensure consultations for the free, prior, informed and good faith consent of the Amazonian peoples, in accordance with international dictates such as ILO Convention 169, for projects and production chains with a significant impact on the Amazon.
  12. Ensure comprehensive and cumulative environmental impact assessments, carried out by independent entities in the Amazon, for all activities that seriously affect the region.
  13. Prohibit the construction of hydroelectric dams and the construction of any infrastructure project that disrespects the rights of peoples and nature.
  14. Respect the forms of self-identification, self-organization and self-determination of indigenous peoples and nations, guaranteeing indigenous autonomy and self-government through the implementation of norms that guarantee the rights of indigenous and Amazonian peoples.
  15. Guarantee and defend the bodies and territories and the autonomy of women, and demand the right to a dignified life for Indigenous, Black, Quilombola, Andean and peasant women and women of diversity, respecting their culture and ancestral identity against the offensive of neoliberal and patriarchal extractivism. Eradicate all discrimination against women in public establishments and punish all types of violence, sexual violence, femicide, violation of sexual and reproductive rights that impact the lives and bodies of women, girls, their cultures and their worldviews.
  16. Combat hunger and inequality in the Amazon, promote popular agrarian reform and effectively ensure the rights to health and adequate food, as well as economic alternatives based on indigenous, community, social and solidarity in the Amazonian territories, strengthening the processes of ecological transition and food sovereignty food, with emergency actions in areas already impacted by large enterprises and illegal activities.
  17. Ensure that all people have access to an education that is oriented toward the defense of the rights of peoples in their territories and of nature, strengthening bilingual and intercultural education.
  18. Ensure effective protection mechanisms for Amazonian defenders, in accordance with international agreements and national legislation.
  19. Guarantee the intellectual property rights of indigenous and traditional peoples in the fight against biopiracy and the appropriation of our knowledge and practices.
  20. Rid the Amazon of the scourge of drug trafficking by dismantling laboratories and commercial and financial operations and arresting cartel leaders.
  21. Promote water management systems in the Amazon that include: a) the creation of protected water areas to preserve the health of the Amazon basin; b) effective protection of Amazon wetlands; c) prohibition of the use of internationally condemned agrochemicals; and d) recognition of the Rights of Nature.
  22. The governments of the Global North and public and private financing entities must stop subsidizing, granting credits and investing in enterprises that destroy the Amazon, and instead direct these resources towards the well-being of indigenous peoples and nature.
  23. Classify and incorporate the crime of ecocide into the legislation of Amazonian countries and effectively punish all environmental crimes. We demand that corporations and companies responsible for environmental disasters be prosecuted in their countries of origin and obliged to repair the damage to nature and the Amazonian peoples.
  24. Promote financing for the Amazon and ensure that all debt conversions for climate action and/or nature conservation are: a) integral, transparent, direct and with the participation of the Amazonian peoples, b) self-determined, self-organized and self-managed; and c) that current financing mechanisms guarantee participation, control and social supervision to avoid abuses, waste and corruption and; d) that nature is not commodified.
  25. Establish a tax on carbon emitted by large polluting industries and agroindustries, to allocate these resources to save the Amazon.
  26. Codify and incorporate the crime of ecocide into the legislation of Amazonian countries and effectively punish all environmental crimes.
  27. Recognize the Amazon as a subject of rights and guarantee its right to existence, to live free from contamination, to preserve its life cycles, to regenerate itself and to restore its life systems in a timely and efficient manner.
  28. Promote the creation of OTCA-SOCIAL so that there is an effective participation of the Amazonian peoples in the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization and also to guarantee that the strategies, plans and commitments lead to the effective fulfillment of the points mentioned above.
  29. Express our solidarity with the struggles of the peoples of Peru for their rights and against all types of authoritarianism and violence.

We are ready to defend life in the Amazon and on the planet. This is our path and our commitment. Belém do Pará, August 7, 2023.

*Brazilian journalist Gabriel Leao is a regular contributor to the CIP Americas Program, specializing in gender issues and Brazil.