Protecting the Amazon Includes Defending Indigenous Rights
Hiparidi Top’Tiro Xavante says indigenous peoples of the Amazon are uniting to defend their way of life and protect the biodiversity of the “lungs of the world”
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Now joining us in the studio in Baltimore is Hiparidi Top’Tiro. Xavante he’s a Xavante leader from the state of state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. Since 1996, through the Xavante Warã Association, he’s been fighting against the advancement of agrobusiness in and around indigenous lands in the savanna. In November 2006, he founded and still leads the mobilization of indigenous peoples of the savanna.
Thanks for joining us.
HIPARIDI TOP’TIRO, PRESIDENT, XAVANTE WARÃ ASSOCIATION: [ANOTHER LANGUAGE]
JAY: So why did you found this association? Why was it necessary?
TOP’TIRO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): In the first place, because in Brazil we have six biomes: the Amazon, which is the most important for the world, the Cerrado, Caatinga, Pantanal, the Atlantic Forest, and the Pampa. Four of these have no environmental protection from the Brazilian government. Recently, two of those, the Amazon and the Caatinga, managed to get more protection than they used to have.
The goal of founding the Mobilization of Indigenous Peoples of the Cerrado is to protect the Cerrado because no one paid any attention to it.Anyone could deforest, and plant soy, cotton, and corn all you wanted. Legislation is more rigorous for the Amazonian biome than the Cerrado. Proof of this is that, according to Brazilian environmental legislation, 32 percent of the Amazonia must remain intact. The figure is 22 percent for the Cerrado.
The objective was for us to organize as indigenous peoples from the Cerrado, first, in order to conserve our culture. We believe that if the Cerrado were deforested, and if the animals disappeared, if the birds disappeared, our spirituality as indigenous peoples would also completely disappear.
That is why we came together and created this organization. It began with a ceremonial log race in São Paulo, organized by the Associação Xavante Warã. This was the beginning, Over time, we grew larger, and saw that it would be good to create a larger organization together with other peoples.
Next, the Xavante Warã Association invited [the] association that represents the Krahô, a Timbira group.
Only together we would be able to get everyone’s attention, particularly in Brazil, to let it be known that the Cerrado Biome is also important. Indigenous peoples live in the Cerrado, and so do traditional maroon communities.
We got together and created a dialog between these different peoples, indigenous and other traditional peoples, including descendants of runaway slaves.
We understood the importance of gathering as many people as we could to direct attention to the destruction of the Cerrado and the need to protect it.
Indigenous peoples lose part of their culture with each tree that is cut down. The Xerente people, for example, have been losing their knowledge, their memories. They are forgetting their language, the names of plants and birds that are gone.
We needed to unite with the traditional maroon communities in order to build strength and make more allies, so that the Brazilian government would have to listen to us. It created a Center for the Cerrado and some other initiatives. These were significant victories for the Mobilization of Indigenous Peoples of the Cerrado.
Our big challenge now is to get environmental legislation for the Cerrado that is as robust as for the Amazon.Since the creation of our coalition, the result has been positive so far. We succeeded in getting the Ministry of the Environment to create the Center for the Cerrado. It does not have a separate budget, so it is not a department like there is for the Amazon.
JAY: So what are the consequences, in terms of your daily life, of the growth of agribusiness in the area?
TOP’TIRO: The first thing is that the water is being polluted by poisonous agro-toxins.
And during irrigation the animals are [eating too much] and getting fat. Their meat is fatty.
The second [part of] this is that, with the growth of the soy agribusiness, the animals that we hunt have begun to decrease.
The animals–peccaries and tapirs–look for food outside of our reserves. They are eating soy and corn in the planted fields and getting fat. When they come back to our lands, the game animals are fat. Their meat is fatty. This affects the health of our children.
First, it has become more difficult to find the raw material to make our bows and arrows, which now we can only find on the plantations, so we are being forced to leave our land and go get it on the plantations. We don’t have these resources on our lands, so we have to leave our reserves and get them from neighboring farms.
Our wedding ceremonies are also affected. Weddings consist of gifts of game. To have weddings, we have to hunt on land that no longer belongs to us.
The third thing is that the fruits are not growing well anymore. We now have to go off our lands to collect enough because our territories are so small.
We are having difficulty getting the raw materials we need for our rituals, so we aren’t able to hold our ceremonies as often as we should. Instead of holding our ceremonies 20 times per month, we are starting to only do them eight times a month. This is very little for us, and this is proof that we are having a hard time finding raw materials.
Dreams are important for us. For example, for me to have my name, Hiparidi, someone had to dream it. If there is no Cerrado, and no animals and birds to bring names from the spirit world to us through our dreams, then we have a problem. This is affecting our culture. The soy farming that is all around us is causing all of this.
JAY: How do people live now? How do they acquire their living?
TOP’TIRO: Traditionally and culturally, we are a hunter-gatherer people. We rarely planted gardens, especially when there was a lot of conflict when non-indigenous peoples began to invade our lands. It was very difficult for us to plant because of all of the wars.
It began with the “March to the West” that took place during the dictatorship of Getúlio Vargas,
The Vargas state began to give our land to people from the South of Brazil, to people from the state of Parana. They said our lands were “empty.” They claimed there were no owners and the land needed to be settled. The federal government began to corral our people onto small reserves and retirement pensions for our elderly so they wouldn’t want to hunt anymore and would be passive. They are going to become more and more sedentary–this problem has begun to appear.
Today, we still hunt, fish, and plant. We still eat traditional foods, although less than we used to. Since the government started paying retirement stipends, people bring food in from the outside. This is one of the big problems that we confront today.
JAY: What do you say to people who say that these big farms are necessary in order to create more food for people in Brazil and other places?
TOP’TIRO: I would say that global capitalism doesn’t have to destroy indigenous peoples; they can co-exist in this world.
We need to maintain our culture. We have the same rights as other citizens.
The so called agro-industry must be responsible and accountable. They don’t have to take our lands, destroy our culture and our lives in order to produce. These corporations have to be responsible. They have to recognize other people are also citizens who have rights.
JAY: Are there people within your own tribe who say it’s not so bad to have agribusiness because we can make money from this?
TOP’TIRO: Some people think like that. Some think that indigenous peoples are fragile, that our cultures don’t change at all.
It’s an illusion to think that everything from the modern world makes life easy, that industrially produced food is much easier and gives you more leisure and time to think about life. Now there is this delusion that everything is easy and to accept the production of industrial food is much easier–you have more time to think about life. This is an illusion, but we have relatives that think like this; we have internal conflicts because of this.
But the majority of us defend the argument that it is better for us to produce our own food, and anyone who [thinks] that food from outside of our reserve is better can go to the city and see what life there is really like.
JAY: What policies would you like to see from the Brazilian government?
TOP’TIRO: First, generally speaking, we would like the government to respect indigenous peoples and our rights as citizens. We won guarantees for indigenous rights with the new constitution in 1988.
Second, we want the government to create stronger programs to secure our cultures, and especially for the demarcation of our lands.
We also want the Brazilian government to implement environmental legislation that equally protects all of the nation’s biomes. Even though the Amazon is the “lungs of the world,” all biomes must be treated equally.
And we would like Brazilians and the Brazilian government to know and be proud of the fact that there are 220 distinct indigenous peoples in Brazil and that 180 different indigenous languages are spoken.
Where else in the world do you see this richness, this type of diversity? Everywhere else they have eliminated indigenous peoples.
JAY: You’re also asking the government to halt six big hydroelectric projects and to stop barge traffic on one of the big rivers. If that’s true, then doesn’t that also mean you’re asking to really restrict what agribusiness can do? It would have to change the way it operates.
TOP’TIRO: That is what the Brazilian government says. In fact, in the Lula era, they said that indigenous peoples were an obstacle to the nation’s development. The current progressive PT government says this. We don’t believe it’s true.
We say that we have right as citizens and as indigenous peoples. Our rights are guaranteed according [to] various laws in Article 231 of the 1988 Constitution. The country can’t just swallow us up in the interest of development, especially when “development” isn’t for everyone, only for a minority.
We are also here. There are a lot of us who should also benefit: indigenous peoples, communities of ex-slave maroons, Afro-Brazilian movements, traditional communities, landless people. We indigenous people understand that we have to defend our rights.
I know that in our country the minority that only wants to make money speaks badly of us. We don’t agree with what they say.
It would be helpful if people in other countries, like here in the United States or in Europe, would learn about our struggle and support our projects to defend the Cerrado and the inhabitants of the Cerrado.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us.
TOP’TIRO: [ANOTHER LANGUAGE]
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. If you look below this video, you’ll see another video, and Hiparidi is going to speak in his native language and sing a song. And I urge you to take a look and listen to the song.
And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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