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Humanitarian aid reaches indigenous populations affected by fire in the Amazon

 

In recent weeks, the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) has visited indigenous communities affected by fires in the Amazon, in order to deliver emergency humanitarian aid from the ACT Brazil Ecumenical Forum (Fórum Ecumênico ACT Brasil: FEACT). The activity was supported by the ACT Alliance in order to equip indigenous fire brigades, provide them with the means to inspect burned areas, which remain vulnerable to land invasion, and help the families with food and drinking water.

The first indigenous peoples who received support were the Tenharim from the Tenharim Marmelo Indigenous Land in the south of the Amazon; and the Huni Kuin, at their Huwã Karu Yuxibu Cultural Centre in Acre, located on Highway AC 90, KM 36, at the Goiabeira Via História Encantada junction in Acre.

  

The Tenharim Marmelo Indigenous Land is located in the south of the Amazon region, on the Rondônia state border.  The land covers 498 thousand hectares and, according to the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio: FUNAI), more than 500 indigenous people live in the area.  According to a report by the Piauí Journal (Revista Piauí) (https://piaui.folha.uol.com.br), published on 24 September, the August and September fires affected kilometres of Amazon country and pockets of Cerrado in the tropical rainforest and are considered the biggest in history.  The area destroyed by fire forms part of the Tenharim people’s reserve for hunting and gathering, which has an indigenous fire brigade made up of 29 members, including one woman, trained and coordinated by the PrevFogo (Prevent Fires) programme of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis: IBAMA).

The Tenharim received support from the ACT Alliance for family food security, through the purchase of food and water, and to strengthen the indigenous fire brigade, with equipment, utensils and fuel to travel to surveillance areas and prevent new focuses for the fires.  It is worth noting that the prevention work undertaken by the indigenous fire brigade includes maintaining a nursery and distributing seedlings for reforestation to all the communities within the territory.  The brigade plays an important educational role in controlling the burning of fields and worked decisively to fight the fires.  The equipment delivered will greatly facilitate their prevention and firefighting work, according to Amauri Tenharim, chief of the brigade, who became moved when he described how one blower, for example, can do the work of four men fighting fire.  Communication with the Tenharim was undertaken in close collaboration with CESE’s local partner, the IEB.

 

  

The second form of humanitarian aid was for the Huwã Karu Yuxibu Centre of the Huni Kuin indigenous peoples, located within the Environmental Protection Area (EPA) of Igarapé São Francisco.  The centre has existed since August 2015 and aims to strengthen these people’s cultural identity, particularly for young indigenous people who go to the city and stay away from their original lands.  In an interview with Public Agency (Agência Pública), a non-profit investigative journalism agency (https://apublica.org/2019/08/centro-de-cultura-indigena-huni-kuin-e-destruido-pelo-fogo-no-acre/), Chief Mapu Huni Kuin stated that the flames destroyed more than 50% of the area in which the Huwã Karu Yuxibu Centre is located, which occupies a plot of 10 hectares, on which seven families live.  Five of these ten hectares were destroyed by the fire, an area corresponding to five football pitches.  Most of the fields, the traditional medicine park, fruit trees and hardwoods were burned.  As a consequence of the fire, the well that supplies the community dried up and the lack of water was alarming.  The ACT aid arrived at exactly the right time, helping to minimize the food and water problems.  The Centre is an indigenous space surrounded by ranches, highlighting the fact that the fire only occurred in the Huni Kuin area.  CESE’s coordinating partnership for this work was the Council of Mission among Indians (Conselho de Missão entre Índios: COMIN).

Other indigenous peoples who were supported were the Apurinã from Valparaíso, a territory in the process of demarcation.  The area is near the city of Boca do Acre, in the south of the Amazon region, and 37 families live within it, families whose fields were partially burned and who lost some of their homes.  The situation is very tense because of the ranchers’ non-recognition of the Apurinã’s right to their territory.  Support from ACT, through CESE, in partnership with the Indigenous Missionary Council (Conselho Indigenista Missionário: CIMI), was intended for food and support for the families to reconstruct their homes.

Other peoples who will be supported by this initiative are the Uru Eu Wau Wau in Rondônia and the six indigenous fire brigades from Maranhão, where the fire destroyed extensive areas.  The work of the indigenous fire brigades does not end when the fires go out, as there are ongoing prevention, environmental education, fire control, surveillance and reforestation activities.

CESE closely monitored the process to support these traditional populations. Sônia Mota,  Executive Director, and Mara Vanessa Dutra, Projects and Training Advisor, accompanied the visits to provide solidarity and support to the affected communities, victims of uncontrolled fires across the whole of the Amazon, which drew worldwide attention to the neglect with which environmental issues are treated in Brazil.

 

The right to say no

 “We crossed the Madeira River onto an unpaved stretch of the Trans-Amazonian Highway.  We traversed the Parintintim territory and entered that of the Tenharim.  On the way, by the side of the river, under the trees, there was a small group of Pirahã.   People who have only approached our turbulent, Brazilian, western, capitalist world for a very few years.  People who prefer the jungle, distance, high rivers.  Under the trees, on the riverbank, by the side of the highway, two fragile and tiny huts, with improvised palm-leaf roofs, sheltered this group of human beings who do not want to converse with the madness around them.  Our driver, a good man who migrated from Paraná to the Amazon some twenty-five years ago, commented: “these Pirahã, don’t have any way of being… (searching for the word)… tame!  They are like that, they don’t mix, in a while they will disappear back into the jungle.”  I see that small human group and I bow to their dignity, their choice, their much more intimate relationship with the forest than with the highway.  A small group of  people who have said no to everything that constitutes our civilization – large, absurd and devouring – and carry on between the fish and the animals.  People who choose what is incomprehensible to the driver from Paraná in the Amazon: what the government designates isolation, but which could be understood as total integration with nature.  It is not a pathway towards us and our noise, our conquests, our marvels and miseries; but towards the deep heart of the jungle, where humans and non-humans, visible and invisible beings, coexist according to laws immemorial.  People who provide us with a glimpse of the mystery”.

Mara Vanessa

 

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