The indigenous communities living along Brazil’s Xingu River basin are setting aside years of destructive ethnic conflicts to unite against what they see as an existential threat: the administration of President Jair Bolsonaro.
Since the 16th century, the original peoples of the region have faced a constant threat from Portuguese colonialism and the arrival of subsequent waves of settlers from Europe.
However, the devastation of their way of life has never drawn so close as it has under Bolsonaro’s far-right administration, which openly promotes the genocide of indigenous people and the clearing of the Amazon rainforest in the name of economic development.
And with forest fires continuing to rage across the fragile ecosystem due to Bolsonaro’s encouragement of the queimada—the burning of forests for the sake of clearing them for farming, logging and mining—indigenous communities are responding to an acute threat with extraordinary measures.
Last week, 14 indigenous groups and four riverside reserves in the Xingu basin sent representatives to an unprecedented meeting in the Kubenkokre village where the communities discussed the basic need to stave off the potential genocide threatening roughly a million indigenous people residing in the rainforest.
The meeting was hosted by the Kayapós group who are one of the largest communities in the region, reports BBC Brazil.
For the first time, the participating communities agreed to form a representative council that would unite their demands and lend them a strong, collective voice.
The Kayapós even invited their former enemies, the Panara people, to participate. The Panaras were previously driven to the brink of annihilation in 1968 when the Kayapós slaughtered them with modern arms while Panara fighters sought to defend themselves with bows and arrows.
Mudjire Kayapó, an indigenous leader, told the network:
“Today we have only one enemy, which is the Brazilian government, the president of Brazil, and the invasions of non-indigenous people.
We have internal fights, but to fight this government, we join.”
For Sinku Panara, a leader of the Panara community, the looming threat of total extermination—and the fact that their home is literally in flames—requires that indigenous communities unite against their common threat.
“We killed the Kayapó, the Kayapó killed us… but we didn’t know what was happening…. we didn’t know about that [white] threat yet.
Then we cool our heads, reconcile, talk to each other again and we will not fight anymore.
Because there is a common interest for us to fight together, so that non-Indians don’t kill us all.”
These Indigenous people are putting everything on the line to protest the Amazon rainforest from raging fires. pic.twitter.com/lNAgjc6XD9
— AJ+ (@ajplus) August 31, 2019
Vast swathes of Brazilian society have soured to their president due to the Amazon fires, which were largely a result of Bolsonaro encouraging the illegal deforestation of the rainforest through his hostile attitude toward the environment and his genocidal rhetoric toward indigenous peoples whose ancestral land lies in the Amazon.
Bolsonaro and his officials regularly blame environmental laws, activist groups, non-governmental organizations and indigenous peoples for allegedly hindering Brazil’s economic potential. Following his inauguration last year, the far-right president pledged to undo the protections that ensure that 15 percent of Brazil’s territory is reserved for indigenous tribes.
“Let’s integrate these citizens and bring value to all Brazilians.”
Amid the peak of global concern over the Amazon fires, Bolsonaro joked, “I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada.”
As the Amazon burns, I stand with indigenous peoples. It's their home that's going up in flames. Join @Survival, as they fight against Bolsonaro with their tribal partners to save their forest from destruction 🏹https://t.co/yux7GkTSES pic.twitter.com/uK8xoJscvB
— Gillian Anderson (@GillianA) September 2, 2019