Brazilian Indigenous Movement Receives Prominent UN Environmental Prize at COP21 in Paris

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Indigenous leaders Maria Leusa Kaba Munduruku and Rozeninho Saw Munduruku will receive today the prestigious UNDP Equator Prize at an awards ceremony at COP 21, in recognition of the Munduruku people's courageous efforts to protect their territories in the Brazilian Amazon from threats posed by planned hydroelectric dams, as well as illegal logging and mining.

The United Nations Development Program's Equator Prize aims to spotlight outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty, protect nature, and strengthen resilience in the face of climate change. As one of the recipients of this year's prize, the Ipereg Ayu Movement was created by the Munduruku people to protect their territories, especially from a series of mega-dam projects slated for construction by the Brazilian government along the Tapajós River and its tributaries.

"We've come to the COP to bring international visibility and gather support for our struggle for our rights, our lands, and our rivers" stated Maria Leusa Munduruku upon her arrival in Paris. One of main critiques of the Ipereg Ayu Movement is that the Brazilian government has refused to respect the rights of indigenous peoples to processes of free, prior and informed consultation and consent (FPIC) regarding planned hydroelectric dam projects in the Tapajós basin, as guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution and Convention no. 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). Last January, the movement took the groundbreaking initiative of submitting to the federal government a "protocol", describing how a culturally-appropriate process of FPIC should be conducted. To date, the administration of President Dilma Rousseff has not responded to the Munduruku protocol, while announcing plans to push ahead with auctioning the largest of the planned dam projects, São Luiz do Tapajós.

The São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam project would flood considerable portions of Sawre Muybu, one of the Munduruku's traditional territories along the Tapajos River. To date, the Rousseff administration has refused to demarcate the territory, despite conclusions of a technical study conducted by the federal agency, FUNAI, that Sawre Muybu consists of traditional lands that must be demarcated, as mandated by the Brazilian Constitution. In response to the federal government's refusal to respect their constitutional rights, the Munduruku launched a surprise initiative last year that heightened public attention to their struggle. Taking matters into their own hands, the tribe initiated a process of "auto-demarcation" of the Sawre Muybu territory, with the goal of shielding their lands from threats posed by illegal hydroelectric dams, logging, mining and land-grabbing.

According to Rozeninho Saw Munduruku, "while in Paris, we must also denounce the European companies who are responsible for supporting projects of destruction in the Amazon." The Munduruku leaders plan to deliver a letter to the presidents of EDF and GDF Suez (ENGIE), co-sponsors of the COP, protesting the two companies' direct involvement with the São Luiz do Tapajós and other controversial mega-dam projects in the Amazon marked by gross violations of indigenous people's rights.

For the 2015 Equator Prize, 21 organizations were selected as winners among 1,461 candidates from 126 countries. In addition to the Munduruku, another Brazilian winner is the Instituto Raoni, of the Kayapó Indigenous people. Especially noteworthy among the institute's efforts is a video documentary project "Video Warriors," that has contributed to protection of 2.5 million hectares of forest by exposing illegal logging activities.

As a winner of the Equator Prize, the Ipereg Ayu Movement will receive US$ 10,000, which according to the Munduruku leaders will be used to continue their mobilization against construction of destructive and illegal mega-dam projects along the Tapajós and its tributaries.

The Equator Awards ceremony will take place this evening in the Mogador Theater, in the center of Paris, with the participation of celebrities, intellectuals and political leaders. Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International's Executive Director, will be among those attending the ceremony. During an announcement ceremony for the award in September, actor and activist Alec Baldwin singled out the Munduruku awardees for their efforts to block the planned Tapajós Complex, a series of dams that would submerge their lands and deforest one million hectares of primary forests. "Looking through the list, I was particularly inspired by the Munduruku Ipereg Ayu movement in Brazil," said Baldwin. "This indigenous group of 13,000 people in the Brazilian Amazon launched a movement called Ipereg Ayu which in local language means ‘I am strong and I know how to protect myself.'"

According to UNDP special advisor on indigenous issues Hans Brattskar, traditional people are among the most drastically affected by climate change. "The world needs to know their stories," said Brattskar. "These people are part of the solution and therefore it's essential that their rights be guaranteed. If their rights are not consolidated, forests are placed in danger. Working directly with indigenous peoples is one of the most effective ways to protect forests.

Additional information on the Equator Prize 2015 award ceremony is available here.

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