Eye on the Amazon

"Where Our Government Kills, We Cultivate Life"

Munduruku leaders bring their movement to Paris climate summit

At the closure of this year's critical COP21 summit in Paris, the most inspirational stories do not stem from official negotiations. They emanate from the heroic efforts of global indigenous movements, bringing a message of resilience and defiance from the front lines of climate change.

Among these voices were leaders from Brazil's Munduruku people, hailing from the Amazon's vast Tapajós River basin. Maria Leusa and Rozeninho Munduruku traveled from the Amazon to Paris to receive the 2015 Equator Prize, marking the greatest international recognition to date of their people's unwavering struggle.

"We've come to the COP to bring international visibility and gather support for our struggle for our rights, our lands, and our rivers," asserted Maria Leusa before a packed assembly, alongside legendary Kayapó Chief Raoni. In addition to the Equator Prize ceremony, where the Munduruku Ipereg Ayu Movement was honored among 21 global movements that strive for indigenous rights and environmental protection, Maria Leusa and Rozeninho brought their message to a diversity of forums, energizing audiences across Paris.

They also came to condemn the handful of powerful European corporate interests profiteering from Brazil's disastrous dam boom, such as Germany's Siemens and energy giants EDF and ENGIE (previously known as GDF Suez), both headquartered in Paris. "While here, we must also denounce the European companies who are responsible for supporting projects of destruction in the Amazon," asserted Rozeninho.

Speaking before the "Rights of Nature" Tribunal, Maria Leusa echoed the sentiments of Antonia Melo of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement, who charged the Brazilian government with ecocide and the cultural genocide of indigenous peoples over the construction of the Belo Monte dam. "I consider our government to be an assassin," said Maria Leusa. "It assassinates our rights and territories with dams, calling this development. [The government] needs to be punished severely, along with the Brazilian and European companies who are investing in projects of destruction."

Throughout their time in Paris, the leaders resoundingly called for social and environmental justice and the broad recognition of indigenous rights as an essential solution to climate change. "We indigenous people have predicted what will happen to our home if this cruel model continues," said Rozeninho. "We have witnessed the destruction [of the Belo Monte dam] and understand what will come to our river and our lives if the government is permitted to proceed with its plans. And these plans do not only threaten my people – they threaten all of us."

While the Brazilian government prepares to flood indigenous lands and raze vast primary forests by building the São Luiz do Tapajós mega-dam, the Munduruku people stand firmly in its way. The Ipereg Ayu Movement decries the government's refusal to respect their right to free, prior and informed consultation and consent (FPIC) as guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution and Convention no. 169 of the International Labor Organization. Last January, the Movement took the groundbreaking initiative of submitting a "protocol" to the federal government, demanding a culturally-appropriate process of FPIC. Meanwhile, the Munduruku are defying the government by carrying out a process of "auto-demarcation" of their ancestral territory Sawre Muybu, which is slated for massive dam-driven destruction and displacement.

According to Brazilian Congressman Ivan Valente, who spoke alongside Maria Leusa in a press conference during COP21, Brazil is undergoing a "political, environmental and moral crisis" in which the rights of indigenous peoples are being stripped to benefit a rapacious, corrupt, extractivist economic model. This model is exemplified by its Amazon dam-building agenda and attempts to slash native land rights from the Constitution with amendments known as PEC215.

While in Paris, the leaders learned the legislative and physical assault on indigenous peoples is not limited to Brazil; it is a process playing out around the planet, to the detriment of humanity. The Munduruku's message rang out among a diversity of native voices calling for respect and recognition for the critical role they play to defend forests, rivers, oceans, and our global climate.

When Maria Leusa and Rozeninho strode across the stage to accept the 2015 Equator Prize, it marked a turning point in the Munduruku people's resistance movement. Their clear and tenacious resolve has not only stirred prestigious global recognition and reached thousands of supporters, but has allowed them to take a powerful step toward the defense of the Tapajós River and the Amazon basin. The Munduruku's cultivation of life in the face of destruction should serve as an inspiration to us all.

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