We need to do the work of protecting the Amazon collectively, we need help in protecting our territories, our knowledge and our spiritual practices that can also help all of humanity. Please amplify the message that the current Brazilian government is voting to destroy the Amazon forest and to exterminate Indigenous peoples, precisely because we are the Amazon's last line of defence. We have a landmark Supreme Court case being voted on 25 August that can strip away our land rights. My community and other Indigenous groups are organizing a large protest in Brazilia that will be intensified on 23, 24 and 25 August. Please help us show the Brazilian the world that you stand with us on those dates.
Indigenous peoples in Brazil are calling all climate activists across generations to show their support in small and big ways. They are particularly calling for any large protest happening between 20 and 25 August to amplify the message that Brazil is trying to legalize both ecocide and genocide, by removing legal protections and opening the Amazon forest to predatory industries, and by cancelling Indigenous peoples' rights and inciting violence against them.
They ask us to be attentive NOT to focus only on the Amazon forest as this can create a nationalistic backlash in Brazil that could strengthen the current government and cause further harm to Indigenous peoples. If we want to protect the Amazon, we need to defend its guardians who are putting their lives at risk for all of us right now.
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Three years ago, a new kind of climate movement emerged and spread across many parts of the world. The photograph of Greta Thunberg sitting in the street, holding a cardboard sign, offered the image of a generation begging for a future. The Deep Adaptation paper was downloaded half a million times and gave readers permission to talk openly about their fears. Extinction Rebellion incited an activism that starts from the place beyond hope.
For millions of people, these and other overlapping movements were an initiatory encounter with the dark material of what we know and what we have grounds to fear about the climate crisis. Within a short time, they changed the way we talk about this crisis, bringing a language of emergency into the foreground.
Three years on, the early momentum has ebbed away. Partly this is just the natural cycle of any social movement. Partly it reflects the weak points and collective shadows of these particular movements. Partly it is the consequence of a global pandemic that swept the demonstrations off the streets, along with most other forms of collective activity.
Yet my assumption here is that the reservoir has not been drained: there remains a depth of feeling and engagement that is waiting for the next move.
So what will be the catalyst for the next phase of action?
In Brazil, the Bolsonaro government is pursuing a perversely smart coordinated judicial and legislative attack on the land rights of Indigenous peoples with the intention of opening the Amazon and other protected areas to mining, logging and agro-industrial interests on an unprecedented scale.
The Amazon holds a unique place within the living fabric of the Earth. Its significance to the climate emergency and the wider extinction crisis is attested by science, while its role in the cultural imagination of environmental movements is unparalleled.
On 25 August 2021, the supreme court of Brazil is due to give its decision on ‘marco temporal’. If this decision goes in the government’s favour, it will strip the rights of Indigenous communities over all lands on which they cannot prove they were physically present in 1988. The wave of industrial exploitation that would follow is likely to push the Amazon as an ecosystem across the tipping point into collapse.
Ninawa Inu Huni Kui, President of the Federation of the Huni Kui people, has made a call to a last stand for the Amazon. His call is addressed directly to the leading voices in the climate movements that arose in 2018, asking them to mobilise behind the Indigenous communities who are making this stand.
Friday 20 August 2021 marks the third anniversary of the beginning of the school strikes movement. Chief Ninawa will ask all those who are awake to the scale of the planetary crisis to join in a global last stand for the Amazon over the five days leading up to the supreme court decision.
The movements of 2018 grew out of an awakening realisation that climate change is calling into question the promises of modernity in the societies that have benefited most from industrialisation, development and globalisation. These movements shook big NGOs, the sustainability industry and many a climate communication expert to the core.
Yet it’s also true that the call to action with which these movements began came from people who embody the privilege of the beneficiaries of modernity. It was these people who formulated the demands around which the movements took shape.
Three years on, this new call to action is coming from Indigenous communities who are asking us to take seriously the interconnection between the threat to their futures and the threat to all our futures. Indigenous people represent 4% of the world’s population, but they are the custodians of 80% of its biodiversity. The fight against ecological breakdown, climate chaos and extinction is thus bound up with the fight for Indigenous rights.
We are set to live through an era of last stands, an era in which we fight to keep or lose much of what is most precious in this living world. But if there is a place where the last stand should begin, a single cause that could unite and animate all those engaged in the climate movements of recent years – and millions more besides – then surely it is the survival of the Amazon, which depends on the survival of the Indigenous communities who are its custodians.
And if the next phase of the climate movements starts by taking up the call to action from Chief Ninawa, made with the support of Indigenous leaders around the world, this would lift us beyond the limitations that result from the origins of these movements in centres of Western cultural and economic power.
If Indigenous peoples lose their land titles, we lose the Amazon. Here and in many other protected areas around the world, Indigenous peoples are the last line of defence for ecosystems crucial to the Earth system as a whole. The struggle against genocide and the struggle against ecocide are two sides of the same coin – and Indigenous rights and stewardship need to be central to the climate agenda.