The Brazilian government is trying to gut indigenous rights by passing a notorious bill, PL 191/2020 known as the “Bill of Devastation”. The proposed bill would open protected indigenous lands to mining and other industry; mining alone has already issued thousands of mining requests covering vast areas of pristine land. (you can find more info on its details and impact here)

Divide and Conquer

Today, the Kayapo are facing a campaign by the Bolsonaro government aimed at sowing confusion and division with the ultimate goal of taking their land without a fuss. Bolsonaro hopes to slide through the legislative changes without having to fight the Kayapo: a fight that would not be pretty and likely garner unflattering media attention. It would be much easier if the Indians would simply roll over and accept empty government promises of the moon, stars and perfect lives in exchange for their land. Towards this end and to avoid charges of human rights abuses and environmental destruction in face of indigenous outcry, the government has trotted out a few coopted Kayapo in front of the media to say that the Kayapo of southern Para support the government’s plans.

Kayapo NGOs perceived the trap and from the beginning stated that the few Kayapo individuals the government has in its corner do not speak for the majority of Kayapo communities that occupy most of Kayapo land. At the end of April, Kayapo leaders met in a village called Kriny where they discussed the future of their land. The Kayapo arrived at a united position to denounce the government plans to open indigenous lands to industry. This unity was facilitated by partner NGOs like ISA (Instituto Socioambiental) who explained the full implications of PL191 so that the Kayapo could gain a full understanding of nefarious government strategy and the trap being set with false promises.

Unity in the face of extinction

The outcome of the meeting was outstanding : Kayapo unity against the government’s plan -and declaration that they will fight. It is particularly notable that Kriny is a village involved with gold-mining and that most of the others involved in illegal activity were part of the meeting as well. This is a great example of the Kayapo organization and unity which have allowed them to claim their rights in the past and protect them until the present.

In their statement, 60 Kayapo villages repudiated the bill and rejected the government’s proposals :

(…)The government and its big business allies have managed to coopt a few Kayapo into supporting their plans in order to divide and weaken us; thereby avoiding a fight -a fight that will not be pretty. We know that the government seeks to open our lands and its riches to non-Kayapo “whites” for mining, farming, logging, hydro-electric projects and other economic activities that ultimately benefit only a few; whereas we Kayapo will be left landless and without means to survive. These industrial activities destroy our forests, pollute our rivers and reduce our lives to misery.

We must constantly struggle to survive as Kayapo on Kayapo land. We will never renege our
constitutional right to exclusive, permanent and sustainable use of our territories; nor will we
ever agree to our land being usurped for destructive industries of outsiders. We seek sustainable development autonomy that fits with our culture.

We ask parliamentarians and our allies to help us defend our survival, sovereignty over our
territory and the great forests that sustain us. Supporting indigenous people to protect their
territories supports life because it is we who keep forest standing.

Footage from the Kriny gathering, Associação Floresta Protegida

The threat intensifies

Between 2018 and 2020, a period that coincides with Bolsonaro’s campaign and mandate, deforestation in the Kayapó IL due to mining has already exceeded 31% of the total deforested in almost 40 years – between 1980 and 2017. “We are in constant struggle for our survival and to remain who we are. We are not going to give up our lands for false promises coming from the Bolsonaro government”, warn the Kayapó.

It is important to note that most Kayapo’s territory : 9 out of 10 million hectares is represented by the Kayapo-NGO alliance and remains untouched by loggers and miners even during 2020. This spectacular success is the result of the Kayapo territorial surveillance program funded by the Kayapo Project in partnership with Kayapo NGOs AFP, IR and IK. You can learn more about the results of Kayapo’s territorial surveillance in this 2020 report.

Despite these positive outcomes, the fight for the protection of Kayapo’s land is far from over. Gold prices are soaring and industry and the government will not abandon their attempts to access the riches hidden under the soil of the rainforest. More than 4.7 thousand hectares of gold mining were registered in just 3 years, between 2018 and 2020. The rate continued to rise in the first two months of the year 2021, when 256 hectares were deforested in the Kayapó IL, 18% more than January and February 2020.

“I don’t want them to end up with my land and water. We just want our forest standing so that our grandchildren can survive ” says a Kayapo woman.