As the wildfires rage on in the Brazilian Amazon, Ajareaty Waiapi is attending school at age 59 to educate herself and the rest of the world about saving and conserving the world’s largest tropical rain forest.
In Amapá, located in the northern region of Brazil, Ajareaty — who also goes by Nazaré — is one of the few female chiefs of the indigenous Waiapi people, according to NBC News. The rain forest makes up 90 percent of her homeland and Nazaré is concerned not just for the land but for her people.
“Our concern is that if the forest is gone, people will also end,” she told NBC News.
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“If we misuse this planet, our creator will make a great flood that will melt the planet. There will also be great fires and fires that will destroy the planet.” (“Se nós, seres humanos utilizarmos mal este planeta, nosso criador irá fazer um grande dilúvio que irá derreter o planeta, irão acontecer grandes fogos e queimadas que irão destruir o planeta.”) 98-year-old Ororiwa Waiapi (right) told me this months ago during an interview from his village in the Amazon. Now the Amazon is on fire and has been for weeks with no signs of stopping and no signs of Brazil’s government trying to stop it. #prayforamazonia #rainforest #indigenouspeoples #brazil
The lands to the west of Amapá have been affected by the fires that were allegedly started by illegal cattle ranchers claiming indigenous lands for resources, an act of deforestation encouraged by Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro, CNN reports.
While Waiapi women don’t speak Portuguese (which is why so few are chiefs), Nazaré is determined to learn so that she can advocate for not only their land but their rights to education and healthcare which is currently under threat by the current administration.
But she’s not only educating herself, she’s encouraging all of her community — nearly 1,500 in 92 small villages — to do the same while also passing on their traditions and knowledge of the land, including plant medicine. Their land is demarcated, keeping it exclusively for their use and protected under Brazil’s constitution. However, recently heavily armed illegal gold miners entered their land and murdered one of their leaders, chief Emyra Waiapi. For this reason, Nazaré encourages community members to rotate villages.
She also teaches people how to fish, weave baskets out of palm fronds, and how to use cassava, a root vegetable, and a staple crop, to make foods. She also knows how to safely clear areas of the forest using controlled fires and ensures that they don’t spend too many years in the same area so that the forest can regenerate.
With nearly 36,000 fires in the past month raging in the Amazon and people around the world searching for ways to provide aid, Nazaré’s efforts are a reminder that the indigenous community is an integral part of conservation.
“Indigenous peoples are a critical component to forest protection and the protection of our planet as a result,” Christian Poirier, a program director at Amazon Watch, an indigenous rights advocacy group said to NBC.
We’re rooting for Nazaré and hope that she continues to get the support she needs to fight for the Amazon rainforest, her home, and future generations of Indigenous communities.