It is impossible to protect the Amazon rainforest without involving Indigenous communities, according to environmental activists fighting for the forests. To this end, many activists say that to maintain a healthy ecosystem, the Brazilian government must protect the country’s Indigenous people.
For years, Indigenous people have been the best guardians of the forest. They co-existed with nature in the forest for hundreds of years before modern exploitation of resources started. Environmentalists now say that these Indigenous communities know better how to protect the forest, and their rights must be respected.
While speaking at an Impact Conference organized by media group Reuters on Monday, several activists called out Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies that have been unfavorable to Indigenous communities. They argued that the rights of Indigenous people have been undermined and disregarded since the president took office.
“What we are seeing is an attack on indigenous people, on their rights, their lives and territories,” said Leila Salazar-Lopez, executive director of Amazon Watch.
Ginger Cassady, executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, also lamented Bolsonaro’s policies. Cassady argues that Bolsonaro and his government have continued to increase deforestation by watering down available protection laws.
Bolsonaro took office in 2019 and immediately started to promote laws that put the forest at risk. Reports show that deforestation has risen sharply since he took office. Despite a public show of efforts to reduce deforestation, Bolsonaro is known to promote policies that embolden land grabbers, farmers and developers in the forest.
Activists have also urged banks and other financial institutions to help protect Indigenous communities. They say that banks and investors could protect these communities by refusing to invest in areas protected under the law, or on Indigenous land.
“Indigenous people are the best protectors of the Amazon forest and of biodiversity around our planet … because they have intrinsic spiritual and cultural connections to the land,” Salazar-Lopez said. “They have the most to lose and so they will do anything to protect the land, which is everything to them.”
Lead image via Pexels