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Indigenous Peoples Call On Us To Heed Their Call To Save The Amazon

January 2009


Nikhil Aziz,  Grassroots International’s Executive Director is in Brazil this week attending  the World Social Forum (WSF), which is happening in Belem in the Amazon region of Brazil.   For four days before the WSF our partner,  the Landless Workers Movement  (MST) did a special site visit  to show international visitors including members of media the destruction that has been brought about by the agribusiness expansion in the Amazon region. They traveled through the southern part of Para state and saw the impacts of mining, logging and hydroelectric projects on the Amazon and its people.

In anticipation of this global social movement gathering Maria Luisa Mendonca co-director of another of our partners, the Social Network for Justice and Human Rights (Rede Social) produced a special report on the devastation in both the Brazilian Cerrado, the savannah-like region in central and northeastern Brazil, and the Amazon region.  The devastation has been wrought by the rampant expansion of large-scale sugar cane plantations for agrofuels in both of these ecologically rich and fragile ecosystems.

The warnings about the impacts of the unfettered expansion of industrial-scale agricultural expansion have been multiplying with indigenous communities struggling to keep their lands, save the forests and their people.

Today I received this message from my colleague Andrea Samulon of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) with whom Grassroots International has been working for the past year and a half on efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of agrofuels expansion.  She tells of a special action held this morning at the opening of the World Social Forum in the Brazilian Amazon.  Please read below:  

Friends and loved ones,

This morning, I participated in one of the most inspiring collective actions that I’ve ever been a part of.

Over 1000 indigenous people from around the world, but mostly from the Americas, and many from the Amazon came together to form a human banner (240 ft by 180 ft) and send an urgent message to the world that the Amazon forest is on the verge of ecological collapse and that the time to act is now.

I’ve been working for the last couple of months with a number of groups as logistical support for this human banner, and seeing it come to life was truly divine.  Starting at 6:00  a.m.  we got out to the field to work with aerial artist, John Quigley,  and lay out the massive letters and image.  We had just 4 hours to do this all before over 1000 people would arrive, and need to be guided into place.  First, a ceremony was conducted by the Xavante indigenous people from Brazil, and then everybody filled into the letters and pictograph.  Soon after, the helicopter with photographer and videographer, and news station was flying overhead to capture the image. 

The energy on the field today was collective, proud, determined, and so unified.  People from around the world put aside many of their own pressing and relevant issues to send one collective message.  Despite intense heat, and lack of water we pulled it off.  We spelled out two messages.  One said: Salve A Amazonia (Save the Amazon), and the other said SOS Amazonia.  Each of these messages had an enormous image/pictograph in the middle of a huge warrior shooting an arrow.  These messages were being defined and deliberated up until midnight last night by the indigenous federations supporting the action!

The lead indigenous Amazonian organization for this action is COIAB (Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon).  Last night they issued the following statement:

“With the permission of our ancestors’ spirits, we indigenous peoples are here with our friends from all corners of the earth.  We build this symbol with our bodies as the cry of living beings from this green forest, this planet, for our continuity as humans and diverse creatures. The symbol of the bow and arrow has three meanings: The first, our aim that every man, woman, and child will decide to care for our planet; The second, the position of defending the rights of indigenous peoples, of nature, of the planet, and of our home the Amazon; The third, to send a message to the world so that each of us helps to protect our home, our air, our water, our food.  Save the Amazon!”

Please click on this link to see the picture of the human banner.,,MUL974154-16052,00.html

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