Culture

Without our forest... everything will end

Amazon Guardian's appeal to the world

My name is Tainaky Tenetehar, I am from the Arariboia Indigenous Territory in Maranhão state, Brazil. I’m one of the warriors that make up the Forest Guardians.

Our land is being invaded and destroyed by illegal loggers, hunters and ranchers. We know that our land is being ruined by them. We know that little by little our culture is disappearing. We’re worried about the future of our children. In 10 or 15 years from now, what will become of them if the invasion and destruction of our land continues? If our land, our forest, disappears, what will become of my people and of our culture? Or of the next generation?

Without our forest, our animals will be gone. Everything will end: the rain will end, the fresh air will end; and so will our health - because our health is inside the forest too, in the trees and in the fruits.

Our land is sacred to us. To outsiders, our forest is ugly, they say it doesn't produce anything. "The Indian doesn't produce, the Indian is lazy. The Indian doesn't develop.” Why should we develop if we’re already developed in our own way?

White people usually say that Brazilian society has to develop in order to improve. But how can it improve if it hasn't improved to this day? The government doesn't even take care of its relatives. One country bombs another and those in government let their own people die of hunger and thirst. They force their relatives onto the streets, eating garbage and living under bridges. Children die with nothing to eat. What kind of government doesn't even look after its own people?

They want to force their ways onto us. We won’t stand for it. Each person lives as his nation does, as his people do. We don’t make them change their culture - so why don't they leave us alone and let us live in our own way? It’s all we want, just to live in peace, not to be at war with them.

I want to ask whoever reads this, and the whole world, to be sensitive to our way of life, because this is our way of hunting and singing, and this is our culture and our own language. We have the right to live in peace, to walk freely and come and go inside what is ours - our forest. Without it, we will not survive.

Our land has life - a lot of life. A simple ant that walks on this earth, every snake, every lizard, is our life. They’re the balance of our forest. Every insect has its function on this earth.

Our uncontacted Awá relatives also live in our territory. They don't want contact with the Karaiw [non-Indians] nor with us. That’s because if they come into contact, they get sick. A simple flu for them becomes a very advanced disease that they can't resist. And we don't want that to happen.

It was with this in mind that we started to think about what we could do to defend our land, or at least diminish the huge damage to our land. The leaders decided to create the Guardians, because we were all tired of waiting so long for the government. It just doesn’t fulfill its role of protecting and monitoring the land or of defending the environment. Without the environment we will not survive - because for us our land is our mother, Mother Earth. Our Mother Earth that gives everything to us. And not only us.

Governments often think that we use our land only for ourselves. But it’s simply not true. Because the fact is, the forest is the lungs of the world - not only of Brazil. These lungs are being stained, they are already wounded. We don't want this disease to advance. We see this as a cancer that’s destroying our forest. We’re concerned that the invasion will increase, that cattle-ranching and soya will come. We don't want this.

The government only talks about agriculture: agri this, agri that, saying agri is development - agri is everything to them. Not for us though. "Our agri" is our hunting and our forest. As I always say, our wealth lies here within our territory. Our clean air, our rain. We’re poor without it. Poorer than everybody else.

For the government, wealth is soya, sugar cane and cattle. This is what white people think, but we don’t. Money for us can’t buy anyone's life. It can’t buy the life of a relative or the life of a child. It can’t buy the life of an animal. No money in the world could pay for that.

Our land is surrounded by Karaiw municipalities. There are mayors, police, settlement leaders and city councillors. But even with all these politicians around, I don’t think they realize we exist, that we are people and that we’re alive.

This is why the work of the Forest Guardians is so important. We’re always monitoring, inspecting and talking to invaders so they don't invade our land anymore. But they don’t respect us. This land is ours. This land has owners.

When an indigenous person expels a logger or a hunter, or an invader who is planting crops on our land, they go and denounce it in the city – then the courts comply with their request and send the indigenous people to jail.

We are defending what is ours, inside our home, and we are seen as bandits, as criminals.

We are defending our lives and children, because we’re tired of waiting for justice. Our relatives are dying. Outsiders are killing our relatives. They are expelling them. They have already killed several of our warriors. They are killing us quietly, in secret. For us this is a cold war.

This is why we ask for everybody's help to put pressure on the Brazilian government, so it fulfills its role of monitoring and protecting our land. Our territory is already mapped out and signed into law, but even so, the white people don't respect it.

I feel so sad, but at the same time, I have this energy that doesn’t let me be sad. I can’t show that my heart is hurting and that I'm crying inside.

With all the difficulty of invasion, sadness, and disease that the Karaiw bring to our people, we will continue resisting, even when we’re down to the last warrior. As long as we have a warrior inside the forest, we won’t give up.

We’ll keep fighting even without government support. We will fight until the end. As long as there is a little child that we can defend, we will be there.

Read the Guardians' global appeal and support them here: svlint.org/guardians