Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin
We, the indigenous peoples of Latin America know of the tragic history of our brothers and sisters to the North, Native Nations that have suffered terribly from the same cruel hunger for land and resources that increasingly plagues our world. But we know as well that you have thrived and that your wisdom and experience have much to teach us.
I speak on behalf of the nine organizations that represent Indigenous peoples from the nine countries of the Amazon Basin. Together, we defend the rights and territories of 505 Indigenous Peoples, and more than 66 Peoples who remain without contact with the outside world. We live in thousands of ancestral communities in the Amazon, with a unique cultural diversity that exists only through our deep connection with our rivers and forests.
But we are in crisis. And we need your help.
A photo from the demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo by: Mobilização Nacional Indígena, courtesy: Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA)
In the countries that share the Amazon Basin, new governments have been elected. Marked by extreme ideologies that view our forests as an inexhaustible source of wealth, these new leaders pose an unprecedented threat to our peoples. They don’t value the natural and cultural riches of conserving the rainforests we protect, not only for us, but for the entire planet.
Throughout the forests of the Amazon, we are threatened by organized groups of thugs who deliver threats by text to our cell phones and murder our leaders and their families.
Brazil, for example, is already the most dangerous country in the world for activists and defenders of the land and the environment: in 2017, 57 murders of indigenous leaders, community activists and environmentalists for protecting their homes and territories from the effects of mining, agribusiness and other activities that threaten their way of life.
A photo of Latin American, Indonesian indigenous leaders and supporters visiting the Yurok Tribe to discuss climate impacts on Native lands last summer, 2018. Photo courtesy: Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA)
Our story will not surprise Native Americans. You too have been driven from your lands by violence fueled by greed and corruption. Throughout the Amazon, we are losing our lands to a development model that treats our peoples as disposable. Mining companies contaminate our rivers with toxins that harm our children and poison the fish we depend on for food. Everywhere, fires and chainsaws bring down our forests and make way for the illegal expansion of cattle ranches and palm oil and soy plantations, as well as the extraction of gold, copper and petroleum from lands our peoples have watched over, sometimes for millennia.
The laws to protect us exist, but they are broken with impunity. Most recently, the new president of Brazil declared that his country is "open for business" and so is the Amazon, as he has pledged to roll back our rights. And we know if Brazil gets away with it, the other countries in the region will not be far behind.
A photo from the solidarity demonstration in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Lauren McGlynn - Extinction Rebellion Scotland, courtesy: Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA)
On Friday indigenous peoples from Brazil and their supporters stood in protest before Brazilian consulates and government office buildings in more than 30 cities across Brazil, as well as in Los Angeles, Washington, New York, London and Edinburgh.
Please join us in solidarity by taking a pledge to protect the Amazon’s forests and rivers at amazonwatch.org. And please help us spread the word about the threats we face by sharing your support on social media, using #JaneiroVermelho for Red January.
Red symbolizes the demand from Brazil's indigenous leaders that "not one more drop of indigenous blood" be shed on their land. They invite us all to speak out against the price now paid for the gold and other riches extracted from our lands at the cost of our lives, not just in Brazil, but on all of the lands where we, the world's remaining first peoples, stand guard.
José Gregorio Mirabal leads the nine-country Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin based in Quito, Ecuador.