Elder Raoni Metuktire, age near 90, Fights for Amazonia, its Indigenous Peoples, and All of Us

Elder Raoni Metuktire, age near 90, Fights for Amazonia, its Indigenous Peoples, and All of Us January 2, 2020

Pope Francis and Raoni Metuktire grasping each other's hands.
Raoni Metuktire and Pope Francis met in May of last year. Raoni gave the pope a map showing the diminution of indigenous tribal lands.

There probably is no region on earth where human activity has greater impact on my children’s future world than the Amazon. That is why I’ve written on the Vatican’s Summit on the Amazon here, here, and here. It’s also why I’ve taken an interest in Kayapó tribal leader Raoni Metuktire.

Raoni, as people call him, has been advocating for the Amazon and indigenous rights since the 1950’s. That was when he started to gain knowledge of the world outside of his nomadic tribe. Since then he has met with Brazilian and French presidents, and King Leopold III of Belgium. He has also received support from Spanish King Juan Carlos, Great Britain’s Prince Charles, and Pope John Paul II. (Online “Biography,” Raoni.com)

A Belgian filmmaker changed Raoni’s life after meeting him in 1973. The documentary film he produced, “Raoni,” acquired an Academy Awards nomination and a screening at Los Angeles Mann’s Chinese Theatre. Raoni then realized the power that publicity would give him. “He could now share the Kayapó people’s concerns about the threat of deforestation on their environment.” (“Biography”)

Partnering with singer/song writer Sting, Raoni visited 17 countries in 1989. Together they raised concerns about deforestation in the Amazon. Since then Raoni has traveled the world. Besides deforestation, he lobbied against projects, like the huge Belo Monte Dam, which put indigenous peoples at risk. (Crux) Eventual construction of the dam, the third largest in the world, forced tens of thousands of indigenous and traditional people’s from their homes and livelihoods. (Mongabay News)

Some victories and Raoni renews the struggle.

Leading resistance against opening up rainforest land to commercial interests through the 1970’s and 80’s, Raoni challenged the common perception of indigenous as poor and uneducated. He achieved some remarkable successes, securing government recognition of indigenous territorial rights. “Then, when we won the victory of having our lands demarcated, I stopped,” he says. “[E]verything seemed fine, everything was tranquil. But the new president [Bolsonaro] threatens indigenous people, so I came back to fight again.” (The Guardian, January 2)

The Guardian article, “Amazonian chief Raoni Metuktire: ‘Bolsonaro has been the worst for us’” also reports:

Recent government figures show Amazon deforestation has surged to the highest level in a decade. Farmers and land-grabbers have started more fires to clear land, which is pumping huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, disrupting the water cycle and destroying the world’s most biodiverse land habitat. They have been emboldened by a government that has spent its first year weakening environmental protections, encouraging loggers and heaping scorn on conservation groups and forest dwellers.

… The threats are not just to the forest. Raoni has two bodyguards and is a target for attention-seeking nationalists who are trying to ingratiate themselves with Bolsonaro.

In May of last year Pope Francis received Raoni, honoring “his commitment to safeguard our Common Home.” The meeting was part of the preparation for the following October’s Synod on the Amazon. (Crux)

Image credit: romereports.com

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