Indigenous Activist from Brazil Awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize

Indigenous communities are constantly having to protect their lands and livelihood and in the Amazon in Brazil it remains an ongoing struggle

Alessandra Korap Munduruku_

Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

Indigenous communities are constantly having to protect their lands and livelihood and in the Amazon in Brazil it remains an ongoing struggle. Alessandra Korap Munduruku, a member of the Munduruku people, a community of about 14,000 throughout the Tapajós River Basin, in Para and Mato Grosso states, has been defending their land against illegal mining. Her efforts to stop the Anglo American, a British multinational mining company, led them to withdrew 27 research applications to mine inside indigenous territories — a monumental victory for her community against a mining giant. Because of her dedication and the work she’s done, she was recently awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, considered the Nobel prize equivalent for grassroots activism in protecting the environment.

“It [Anglo American] may be powerful to you, but to me, the powerful ones are the river, the strength of our territory and our people, the ant doing its work and the resistance of our people for more than 500 years in the fight for our land,” she told BBC.

“This award is an opportunity to draw attention to the demarcation of the Sawre Muybu territory,” Korap told The Associated Press. “It is our top priority, along with the expulsion of illegal miners.”

Sawre Muybu is an area of virgin rainforest along the Tapajós River, one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon,  spanning  440,000 acres. AP reported that official recognition for the land, or demarcation, began in 2007 but was frozen during the presidency ofJair Bolsonaro. Indigenous chiefs and human rights organizations accused Bolsonaro, whose presidency ended in January, of enabling the murders of Indigenous activists protecting the land which numbered over two dozen in 2019. His state policies were alleged to profit from the destruction of the Amazon and failing to protect Indigenous communities. Almost half of Brazil’s climate pollution comes from deforestation. Rates of deforestation linked to mining in the Amazon increased by 62 percent from 2018 to 2021, and 2021 had the most deforestation in the last 15 years.

Alessandra Korap Munduruku_Brazil

Alessandra Korap Munduruku at the first Indigenous Women’s March in Brazil, August 2019 (Photo: Leo Otero)

Korap is the president of the Pariri Indigenous Association, which supports communities in the Tapajós River region, and has been involved in the movement against deforestation for the past decade. She decided to study law in 2018 to better represent her community and protect their land and in 2020 she collaborated with the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and Amazon Watch to write an open letter to Anglo American: “We are here, and we will continue here. Anglo American out! The people will continue to resist,” she stated.

By May 2021, Anglo American formally announced its commitment to withdraw 27 approved mineral research permits in Indigenous territories in the Amazon, including 13 copper mining research permits located within the rainforests in Sawré Muybu. AA officially informed the Brazilian government and cited issues raised by Indigenous communities.

“Where I live there are more and more settlements springing up. My people rely on fishing to feed themselves. But there are already places where gold mining has contaminated the water and killed off the fish,” she told BBC. “When I was a child, I had immense freedom. We fished in the rivers and the lakes, we collected fruits and the seeds we use to make our handicrafts. But starting in 2014, I saw these areas turned into deserts by diggers and other big machines.”

Korap’s success, one of six recipients for 2023, is a testament to the power of speaking up and uniting your community to better protect itself. As a woman, she received pushback for taking on a leadership role, usually reserved for men in her culture known as the caciques (chiefs), but it was her mission to unite her community that propelled her to continue.

“We women don’t want to overrule the caciques, but we do want to stand alongside them, deciding with them; our role as women is not to divide the community, but to bring everyone together,” she told BBC.

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