Eye on the Amazon

Honoring the Legacy of Terry Turner

Terry Turner with Chief Raoni Metuktire. Photo credit: Todd Southgate.

In the years I've worked with Amazon Watch I've met many extraordinary people. In that time I've drawn inspiration from powerful indigenous leaders, staunch environmental and human rights defenders, political pioneers, and media magnates.

I had one of my most inspiring encounters in 2011 when working alongside the famed anthropologist Terence Sheldon Turner in the Brazilian Amazon. The lessons garnered from our collaboration in Piaraçu, a remote Kayapo village, have helped guide my work to this day, providing key insights into bridging worlds to effectively support the struggles of our indigenous partners.

Terry's incisive ethnographic work with the Kayapo people, and his longstanding advocacy on behalf of their culture, forests, and rivers, earned him unique respect and admiration from Kayapo leadership, who called him "Wakampu". I witnessed this camaraderie during the Piaraçu assembly, called by legendary Kayapo Chief Raoni to build resistance among the Xingu River's diverse indigenous communities to the Belo Monte dam.

Terry's profound knowledge of Kayapo culture and flawless understanding of the Kayapo language was forged through years living alongside his friends on the Xingu, allowing him to interpret the words of his old friend Raoni Metuktire with subtlety and precision. Bearing witness to these two great minds working together to defend the Amazon and its peoples gave me hope that our determined, collective efforts will finally overcome the rapacious and destructive model espoused by the Brazilian government.

Terry Turner. Photo credit: Todd Southgate.

When I heard of Terry's passing last year I felt as though a great light had been extinguished. The struggle of indigenous and local communities for social and environmental justice in the Amazon, in the context of today's mounting challenges, cannot afford the loss of great leaders like him. However, it's clear that Terry's legacy lives on.

As I watched members of the Kayapo organization Instituto Raoni accept the prestigious 2015 Equator Prize in Paris, I felt as though Terry was in the room with us. Indeed, his wife Jane and daughters Vanessa and Allison were in the audience, honoring his memory. The Instituto's victory was in part a result of his support. In recognition of his contributions, the Kayapo paid warm tribute to Wakampu in a beautiful letter.

Terry is survived by his wife Jane and daughters Vanessa and Allison who are committed to continuing the defense of the Amazon and the people who call it home. Today, at the request of his family, we honor Terry's legacy with the Terry Turner Memorial Fund, which aims to raise financial support for Amazon Watch's efforts to support Brazil's indigenous communities and protect the rivers and forests they depend upon for survival.

To accompany the announcement of the fund, Terry's family has made a founding contribution with a $5,000 matching fund, set to match the contributions of others. It seems fitting that Terry Turner's name will live on alongside our work with the Kayapo and other indigenous partners in Brazil. Together we seek to put an end to environmentally disastrous dams and other threats, while ensuring that the rights, cultures, and lands of the Amazon's indigenous peoples receive the respect and esteem they deserve.

Below is a statement from Kayapo youth leader Mayalú Waurá Txucarramãe to be read at Terry's memorial service:

Terence Turner (Wakampu) –

Firstly I would like to give thanks for this opportunity to express my sincere sentiments for this person, who was very important for my Kayapo people, especially for my family and me.

In the name of my family I can speak clearly about the role that Wakampu, as we affectionately called him, played in the lives of us Kayapo. He accompanied the political trajectory of my people, who fight tirelessly to maintain the preservation of their culture, their territory, the river, forest, and land.

Wakampu fearlessly immersed himself into the universe of the Mebengokre, learning to speak our language, and learned above all to love our culture; this is what he transmitted to us by bringing his family close to us. His presence emitted strong energy, he has a powerful spirit, and through this power and dedication for my people we won many battles, such as the demarcation of our lands.

I, Mayalú, am grateful for the confidence that he had in me, his belief in my abilities, his encouragement that I also fight for my people. I am from a different generation than his own, but share the same objective: to defend our territory.

My family was very happy to receive him in the village and it was of special importance to us to repay him for all of the time he dedicated by taking care of him and the Turner family with love and tenderness. My sister Kokoba (Vanessa), the last encounter of our families was very important to strengthen the beautiful friendship and unity of our fathers.

My father Megaron Txucarramãe, who has a special spiritual susceptibility, received Wakampu in a dream where he was happy and strong, embracing my father and asking him not to stop his fight for the demarcation of the Kapot Nhinore Territory.

Therefore, we believe and feel that Wakampu hasn’t left us - he remains among us. Eternal Wakampu, I thank you for the tenderness and love you have for the Kayapo nation.

With respect and nostalgia,

Mayalú Kokometi Waurá Txucarramãe

Share & Comment

Related Multimedia


Yes, I will donate to protect the Amazon!

"The work you do is vital, and I am happy to support it."
– Charlotte R. A.