Portraits of Women Defenders Uniting Across the Amazon | Amazon Watch
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Portraits of Women Defenders Uniting Across the Amazon

March 3, 2022 | Nina Gualinga | Eye on the Amazon

All photos by Alice Aedy

“I worry for my children, for all our children and the future generations. Despite our fight to keep the earth in balance, to protect our territory and our tradition, the Amazon is in danger.”

Mayalú Txucarramãe

Indigenous women across the Amazon are coming together like never before to protect and defend our lives, rights, bodies, and territories in the face of ever-increasing threats. In September 2021, the National Association of Ancestral Indigenous Women Warriors of Brazil gathered over 5,000 Indigenous women from 172 nationalities to march in resistance to the attacks by the Bolsonaro government on Indigenous peoples’ rights.

In solidarity, a delegation of Mujeres Amazónicas, a collective of Indigenous women defenders working against extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon, joined the historic gathering. Together, we marched, danced, sang, and shared stories and strategies of resistance. There, I met beautiful and inspiring women, including Mayalú Txucarramãe. She is a mother and rising woman leader of the Kayapó Mebêngôkre and Wauja peoples. She is the daughter of Cacique Megaron and granddaughter of Cacique Raoni Metuktire, globally-recognized Kayapó warriors who have fought to defend Kayapó territory in the Xingú Indigenous Reserve from the Belo Monte mega-dam, industrial agribusiness, land-grabbing, and the Brazilian government. 

“My grandfather said long ago that the uncontrolled action of man has unbalanced nature. Fish are dying because the rivers are drying up, and this has harmed forests too. The cycle of rainfall is not the same, which affects the plants and animals. This saddens me, because my grandfather told me before he died that he was part of the land, part of the river, part of the forest. Then I see that nature is crying, and it is as if my grandfather is crying… For me, caring for nature is caring for my ancestors.”

Mayalú Txucarramãe

A few months after meeting Mayalú, I had the opportunity to visit her and her family in sacred Mebêngôkre (Kayapó) territory together with my friend Alice Aedy, documentary photographer, filmmaker, and co-founder of Earthrise Studio. We were also joined and supported by Jack Harries, Eric Marky, and my sister Helena Gualinga.

The journey into Kayapó territory is exhausting and devastating. It requires days of travel via car and motor canoe from the nearest town. On the road, we passed cleared forests, heavily loaded trucks, and miles of soy fields which were once forests and Indigenous lands. This is what surrounds the Xingu, a sacred Indigenous land and river. 

While in Mebêngôkre territory in the community of Metuktire, we reunited with Mayalú and met her family, including Raoni, which was an incredible honor. Until we arrived, Raoni had not seen outside visitors since last year, when his wife passed away and he survived COVID-19. We also met Irepoti Metuktire, a young Kayapó woman leader supporting Indigenous health via Casas de Apoio à Saúde Indígena, who is learning and following in the steps of other Indigenous women leaders.

Together, they welcomed us as family into their homes and community. We shared stories of our peoples in resistance to land grabbing and extraction, and our distinct experiences as Indigenous women. We exchanged knowledge about Wituk painting. The women of the community painted our faces and bodies in their Mebêngôkre traditional way with Wituk, which they call Jenipapo, and Achiote. My sister and I dyed our hair in our traditional Kichwa way with Wituk

Mebêngôkre women are fierce, just like Kichwa women. We are on the front lines of all of the threats facing our peoples and territories, and we continue to face gender-based discrimination and violence. But that is not stopping us. On the contrary, we are standing together and rising up. 

This is just the beginning! We are building partnerships of Indigenous women defenders across the Amazon. As our sisters at ANMIGA say, “We are the cure of the earth.” 

“Our survival is the survival of the forest, and the survival of forests is the survival of the planet. We’re on the edge. But until the end, we will be the resistance,” Mayalú told a journalist in 2021.


Nina Gualinga is a woman defender of the Amazon from the Kichwa community of Sarayaku in the Ecuadorian Amazon who advocates for women’s rights and climate justice. She is an international spokeswoman for Mujeres Amazonicas and the Women Defenders Program Coordinator at Amazon Watch. 

Alice Aedy is a 28 year-old documentary photographer, film-maker and campaigner, whose work focuses on social justice issues including forced migration, climate justice and women’s stories. Alice is co-founder of Earthrise Studio, a creative studio communicating on climate.

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