It is fundamental that traditional and Amazonian peoples participate in decisions related to their own territory, including climate conferences, political processes and playing leading roles in events related to the Amazon.
The Amazon is the largest tropical forest in the world and it plays an important and necessary role in regulating the cycles of nature, which allow life to exist on the planet. This is why the issue of the Amazon is a constant presence when discussing the climate emergency, for example. A series of events, conferences, summits, COP, among many others, have the Amazon as a subject. But in order for the agreements and decision-making to be anchored in the reality of the region, it is necessary for Amazonian people to be part of the construction of these agreements and not just extras in these processes.
Native Amazonians must actively participate in the construction of policies for the region for several reasons. First of all, we are the ones who experience the difficulties and benefits of this region on a daily basis. Next, it is important to remember, and I, as an indigenous woman, cannot forget, that we have been living in this biome for thousands of years: archaeological studies indicate that our ancestors had already left their marks on this territory, known today as the Brazilian Amazon, at least 11,200 years ago.
Here, the forests are the fruit of the interaction between humans and nature. Science and technology were developed in the region over the course of thousands of years, well before the arrival of the Europeans. A model of good living was established, contrary to the developmentalist model that aims at a domination of nature. The destruction of the forests, rivers and native peoples is part of the recent occupation of the Amazon, in the colonial period, called “modern.” In the contemporary period, the knowledge of the native populations was inferiorized, the populations were enslaved. It is important to note that the indigenous population suffered a genocide, and entire groups were extinguished.
Today, when we talk about the Amazon, native peoples need to be part of the process and not just for the sake of appearance. Our history needs to be respected, as the Amazon and its peoples are still seen by many as savage. To illustrate this imagery, let me talk about an episode on a TV network that occurred during the Amazon Summit, held in Belém, Pará in August of 2023. A host of a live newscast made the following comment: “Let me call on what’s-his-name so he doesn’t have to wait there in the middle of the forest,” referring to the reporter who was in Belém, the capital city of Pará, covering the event. This is just one example of the vision that people have of the region, but, mainly, that the forest is something to be dominated.
And I say this because it is fundamental that we be respected and taken seriously in the agreements and decision-making that affect us. I’m going to share two situations I experienced during the Amazon Summit, an event that brought together the heads of state of the eight member countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO): Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. It is important to highlight that there was pressure on the government to allow society to have greater participation in the discussions. For this reason, the Amazon Dialogues were created, events promoted by civil society and by the governments from August 4-6, right before the Summit, to address crucial issues for the region that were related to the Summit. I would like to share two episodes that I experienced during the event.
In the first episode, I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion on “the bioeconomy and paths to sustainable development in the Amazon.” I accepted the invitation promptly, as I was already going to be in Belém at that time. However, I asked about the possibility of financial support. I asked this question mainky to understand what position was being attributed to us, since it is common for speakers to receive plane tickets, lodging and per diems.
When I entered the room to form the roundtable, I couldn’t help but notice that all the other members of the table were men with white skin, as were the organizers, also white men. I was the only representative who was female or from the native populations in that discussion space. I took advantage of the moment to emphasize the importance and the need for local populations to be involved in the construction of what should be development for the region.
The strengthening of local populations’ ways of life as a crucial solution for maintaining socio-biodiversity and keeping the forests standing were among the many topics addressed during the roundtable discussion. At the end of the discussion, I had no doubt that I was there as a token to fulfill the “quota,” but I was not intimidated by this. I approached the organizers and commented on the importance and need for diversity and the inclusion of Amazonians in the discussions. I also took the opportunity to ask about the financial support for my participation, and they said they would get back to me right away, but never did, to this day. This demonstrates the treatment that we, Amazonians, get.
The second episode: I was called during the event to participate in a roundtable that dealt with “the role of churches for a sustainable Amazon,” which featured participation from high-ranking authorities of the Amazonian governments present there and religious leaders.
Then I asked if there would be room for me to speak, as I was aware of the risk of us being there just as “ornaments.” I was assured that, yes, there would be a space for me to speak and for a closer conversation with one of the authorities present. I also requested support and was informed that I should arrive there ahead of time, due to the possibility of turmoil at the entrance because of the presence of the personalities.
I arrived 30 minutes early and there was already a line forming. I talked to the organizers, who allowed me to come inside. Upon entering the room, I sat in the front row, but soon was asked to get up to make room for the “important” people. When I looked back, all the chairs were already occupied. I stayed calm, more or less, as I believed that I would be invited to participate in the “roundtable.” However, this did not occur. I was obligated to share a chair with other people present there. I stayed in the room until almost the end, when it became clear that I would not be asked to participate in the roundtable or get to speak. The “authority” I was supposed to talk to had already left the room. It was then that I decided to leave the room as a form of “protest.”
For me, these situations highlight the regard, the treatment and the place attributed to Amazonians. It is fundamental that we change this scenario. We, indigenous people and researchers, have stated that we are already occupying these spaces, but now it is crucial that our ideas and our worldview are incorporated into the discussions and that we actively participate in the entire process of construction, from the beginning of the agreements to the conclusion. In this sense, we have expressed the phrase: “Nothing else from us, without us.”
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