Journalism from the center of the world

Chief Raoni. Photo: Beptuk Metuktire

Chief Raoni represents at least six decades of the struggle of the indigenous peoples and the Amazon rainforest. Leader of the Kayapó (Mẽbêngôkre) and one of the most important indigenous leaders in Brazil, he has been fighting for the demarcation of his people’s lands, and those of other native Brazilian peoples, since the business-military dictatorship that governed the country between 1964 and 1985. At the end of the 1980s, he toured the world alongside Sting, raising awareness of the destruction of the forest, and became internationally known, bringing global media coverage to the “First Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples of the Xingu”, in Altamira, Pará, an event aimed at alerting the world to the battle against the construction of the Xingu Hydroelectric Complex (which included the Kararaô hydroelectric plant).

The subsequent pressure eventually led to the project being abandoned, but it was revived under the first government of Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, better known as Lula. Kararaô became the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant, inaugurated under the government of Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff, and bringing enormous damage to the environment and the forest peoples, as well as to the city and its population. In 2019, thirty years after his first international tour, Raoni, then aged over 90 (his exact date of birth is unknown), once again traveled the world to condemn an even greater enemy of the forest, this time in the form of Jair Bolsonaro’s extreme right-wing government. He met with Pope Francis and European leaders, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 – won in the end by the World Food Program (WFP), an agency of the UN.

Raoni is well aware that his fight to defend the forest represents a battle to put pressure on governments, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum. In this interview, a supplement to our Nature in Power series, he sends a message to Lula, who was elected with the help of the native peoples and defenders of the Amazon. The indigenous leader wants to meet with the president, to discuss his past actions, with a view to the future. At the request of SUMAÚMA, Raoni, who lives in the Metuktire village, in the Capoto-Jarina Indigenous Territory, was interviewed by his grandchildren Beptuk Metuktire, Matsi Txucarramãe and Mayalú Txucarramãe, in the city of Colíder, in the state of Mato Grosso. The interview took place with the support of the activist Raquel Rosenberg.

Translation of Mẽbêngôkre (language spoken by Raoni) to Portuguese: Beptuk Metuktire

Portuguese-English translation: James Young

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