Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 9 News List

A cry for help from the Amazon

Brazil's Mehinaku are threatened by pollution and hydroelectic dams. The Enawene Nawe are fighting ranchers and soya growers devastating land in Mato Grosso. Here, Amazonian tribal people speak out

By Kamalurre Mehinaku and Kwari Enawene Nawe  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON


Kamalurre Mehinaku

We left our land in the Xingu to come to Europe to speak out about the many, problems we are facing. All the headwaters of the great Xingu River are very polluted. This is because the white people who are agriculturalists throw in toxic pesticides. They chuck everything in there -- rubbish, empty cans and bottles of rum. They also kill the wild animals and they leave the dead bodies rotting by the river banks. We Mehinaku use the water to bathe in, to drink from and to fish. We are fisher people -- we don't eat red meat. In the Xingu there is a lot of fish, every type of fish. Fish are so important to us and now the fish are dying.

We are very, very worried because now a hydroelectric dam is being built on the Culuene river. Building has already started. I went to Brasilia to protest. All the indigenous peoples of the Xingu went to demonstrate there, and they told us they can't stop the dam. They keep on building. We went to the dam site to protest and they stopped work, but as soon as we left they started again. They don't care about us. When we go to see what is happening they don't want to know. So we need help. We have to fight for a better life. We don't want that dam. We want to preserve our land. We have to show people not to pollute the water, not to kill animals and not to throw poison in the rivers.

The governor of Mato Grosso State, where we live, grows soya. That's all he does. He just orders people to plant soya so he can earn lots of money. He wants to grab half of our reserve, only to plant soya. I am beginning to understand things about the whites. What I see is that we, the Indians, respect them but they don't respect us.

If you go to my land, all you will see is forest. It's unbroken. Now we have set up vigilance posts to protect it and the rivers. People come down the rivers in boats throwing out the rubbish and taking the fish. But I don't take things that belong to the whites. Funai (Foundation for the Protection of Indians) is responsible for our land. But we Mehinaku want to own our land. We want to register it in our name. We need our land and rivers for our life and traditions. This is very important to us. We sing, we dance, we fish, we hunt, we plant. We are never still because that's our way, it's how we are.

My message to people in Europe is, please stand by us. We, the indigenous peoples of the Xingu, really need your help to stop these dams. This is very important -- for all of us, for humanity.

Kawari Enawene Nawe

long time ago, this was our land. Now everything is finished. All the trees are gone. There are no bees' nests full of honey and no eagles. There are no tapirs, no monkeys -- they have all died or fled. There are no animals here at all. The Preto River is totally spoiled. There are no fish and the river is all polluted. The ranchers are finishing everything and this land has become ugly.

All this land belongs to the yakairiti -- our ancestral spirits -- who are the owners of the natural resources. They own the rivers, the fish and the trees. If you finish these off, the yakairiti will take vengeance and will kill all the Enawene Nawe. We've been on this land for a long time. There were no inuti [non-Indian people] here when I was young. We were here long before them.

We never knew that so many ranchers would arrive in our land. We didn't know that tractors existed and we didn't know about chain saws that cut down trees. Nor did we know about cattle. Then we saw that as the city people came on to our land, they brought diseases, they polluted the rivers and finished off the birds and animals.

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