Journalism from the center of the world

Kayapó child on the mother’s lap during the singing at the opening of the 19 th edition of the Free Land Camp (ATL) in Brasília. Photo: Fernando Martinho / Sumaúma

“Without land demarcation there is no democracy.” We should all take up the cry of the 2023 edition of the Free Land Camp. Every citizen of Brazil, every citizen of the planet. Because demarcating the lands of the original peoples was a constitutional ruling that should have been implemented within five years of 1988. Because it has been proven that Indigenous lands are the places where the Amazon and other biomes are best preserved. Because we need to tackle the climate crisis and, as their leaders never tire of repeating: Indigenous people account for a mere 5% of the global population but protect 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Therefore, land demarcation is not just a matter of concern for native peoples but for the Earth’s entire human population, as well as for other species and especially recent generations whose quality of life in the only home we have ever known has been drastically undermined by the destruction of nature.

We are witnessing an explosion of power on the part of the original peoples represented at the Free Land Camp in Brasilia. But each Indigenous person who is coloring Brasilia right now with their culture and language can tell us just how dramatic the situation is on the ground of the Amazon rainforest, on the ground of the Cerrado tropical savannah region, on the ground of the Caatinga semi-arid shrubland, on the ground of the Pampas grasslands, on the ground of the Pantanal tropical wetlands, on the ground of what is left of the Atlantic Forest, on the ground of each haven of nature that still stands in Brazil and is protected by indigenous people, by so-called quilombolas (descendants of escaped enslaved Afro-Brazilians), by the traditional forest communities known as ribeirinhos, and by all of the enormous variety of traditional communities that live in the conflicted territory known as Brazil.

Kuikuro people with a climate emergency banner during a protest march at the 19 th edition of the Free
Land Camp (ATL) in Brasilia. The theme of the 2023 edition of the ATL is ‘the indigenous future starts
today. Without land demarcation there is no democracy!’. Photo: Fernando Martinho / Sumaúma

The degraded ecosystem of the centers of power in Brasilia presents a tense situation for new arrivals like Sonia Guajajara, Minister of Indigenous Peoples, and Célia Xakriabá (Socialism and Liberty Party for the State of Minas Gerais), federal deputy. If this edition of the Free Land Camp is taking place under a presidential administration that so far has shown respect for Indigenous peoples, it also bears the sharp tip of the arrow: now that leaders formed in the struggle have become part of the government–an unprecedented experience in Brazil’s republican history–places have changed. The moment for celebrating this new chapter is over (or close to being over). Indigenous leaders will start making demands of their representatives–the pressure being felt in Indigenous territories requires an urgent response, and a government elected by a broad front has a hard time answering.

SUMAÚMA practices journalism from the Amazon and from the perspective of its peoples; it practices journalism on the ground. We have a duty to our community of readers to always talk straight–very straight. The war on nature in Brazil did not lessen once Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the Workers’ Party moved into government. To the contrary, as deforestation figures have shown. Despite all the efforts of ministers such as Marina Silva and Sonia Guajajara, Jair Bolsonaro and his gang dismantled the structure of the State as part of their policy for occupying power. It is a huge challenge to govern in a land that has been devastated–literally, in the case of the Amazon region and other biomes–because material, legal, and human structures cannot be restored overnight. Meanwhile, the climate crisis is advancing rapidly because of this destruction.

However, the issue is even more dramatic. During Bolsonaro’s far-right administration, the destroyers of the Amazon enjoyed a level of power only previously experienced during the business-military dictatorship (1964-1985), when more than 8,000 Indigenous people were slaughtered and the forest was torn up by roads like the Transamazonian Highway and when corruption involving public money and lands was inaugurated. In the four years of Bolsonaro’s government, the current generation of land grabbers, loggers, and illegal mining bosses had a taste of doing as they please, with the support of the Republic’s highest figure and often with the machinery of the State acting on their behalf–this time around, in a democracy. This experience is not easily forgotten.

Lula’s victory was a close one. Partly because the machinery of the State was used to boycott votes for the Workers’ Party’s candidate. But not just for this reason. Bolsonarism goes far beyond Jair Bolsonaro himself and, although many people would prefer to deny it, it is representative of a considerable part of Brazil. What it represents is still very active. For those who live on the ground in the Amazon region, the risk is even greater now than it was in previous years. Bolsonaro’s base, part of which is already beginning to distance itself from the former President and is on the lookout for other representatives, is keen to maintain its power during the four years of Lula’s government and is already starting to take steps towards the 2026 elections. In most of Brazil’s municipalities, positions of power are held by the representatives of this base.

These are parallel realities: confronting deforestation and mining, and living an everyday life on the ground. Truth can only be found if the two are integrated. This is what SUMAÚMA attempts to do with its in-depth journalism. Perhaps the clearest example of this would be the high visibility operations undertaken by the government in Yanomami territory while, at the same time, the mayor of the municipality of Itaituba, Valmir Climaco (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), held an official public meeting in the Pará municipality to declare: “It’s not time to stop mining.”

There is so much more, as we have been showing every week. One highlight is Aldo Rebelo (Democratic Labor Party), the former communist and former minister under previous Workers’ Party governments, who moved (whether temporarily or otherwise) to the municipality of Altamira, where he initiated an agro-military crusade against Lula’s socio-environmental policy in the various states that make up the Legal Amazon–as well as against the NGOs that help protect the forest, in alliance with local groups in the Amazon region.

Even in celebrations, there are threats of blood: Alessandra Korap was one of six activists on the planet who received one of the most important environmental awards, but her life has been threatened in Brazil because of her fight against the mining operations that are now devastating the Munduruku territory–with the aggravating factor that some of the Indigenous people themselves are involved in illegal mining.

Morzaniel Ɨramari, the first Yanomami filmmaker, has just won the award for Best Short Documentary Film of the Brazilian Competition at the It’s All True Festival, with his beautiful Mãri hi – The Tree of Dream. In his interview to Talita Bedinelli, he tells us what the forest reveals to the shamans. But he must also denounce the brutal reality experienced within Yanomami territory even after the government began operations to remove illegal miners.

Our journalism tackles complexity–and doesn’t sidestep the contradictions. If you think SUMAÚMA is relevant in the war against nature now determining our present and shaping this planet’s future, if you think our journalism is important to the fate of the children who have already been born, then it is time to support us more effectively. Be part of this network of care. We need your donations to continue in existence. Your support is also our protection as we practice journalism in the middle of a war zone.

These dual scenes are everyday reality. And everyday reality is where we live. And everyday reality will determine the future of new generations.

Spell check (Portuguese): Elvira Gago
Translation into Spanish: Meritxell Almarza
English translation: Mark Murray. Edition by Diane Whitty
Photography editing: Marcelo Aguilar, Mariana Greif and Pablo Albarenga

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