'It Is Our Very Governments Who Are Killing the Earth.' A Brazilian Indigenous Leader Speaks Out On Deforestation in the Amazon
September 14, 2019 at 3:41 AM - Views: 2 #148851
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Benki Piyãnko in his village, Apiwtxa, explaining about his work with agroforestry systems Carolina Comandulli
BY BENKI PYÃNKO SEPTEMBER 13, 2019
Benki Pyãnko is a community leader from Apiwtxa, an Ashaninka community situated in the Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil. He has led projects to defend his community from deforestation and to defend Ashaninka rights and culture in the indigenous territory of Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia. His community’s sustainability projects were awarded an Equator Prize by the U.N. in 2017.
As TIME reported in its recent special climate issue, the fires from the Amazon seen across the skies of Brazil in August “helped illuminate something the world can no longer ignore.” On the front lines of the fight to protect the land is 46-year-old Benki Pyãnko, who has experienced these significant — and devastating—changes to the environment firsthand. A ambassador of the Ashaninka people, Pyãnko has led environmental and reforesting projects in his community of Apiwtxa, inhabiting the indigenous territory of Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia in the Brazilian state of Acre, located close to the border with Peru and covered by the Amazon rainforest. There are around 3,000 Ashaninka people living across four indigenous land areas in Brazil, and over 120,000 Ashaninka living over the frontier in Peru. Pyãnko’s Apiwtxa community won the United Nations Equator Prize in 2017, a prize honoring indigenous communities, for its reforesting initiatives and defense of Ashaninka rights and culture. As part of the Flourishing Diversity Summit at University College London, Pyãnko was one of several indigenous leaders invited from around the world to gather and share their experiences of protecting their environments. TIME spoke with Pyãnko about the solutions that indigenous people can offer to tackle climate change, and what lessons the rest of the world can learn from them.
Where we live, there is still a great deal of richness as far as forests, animals, plants. These species still exist because of the way we guarded and tended the forest since around 1986 when we began this work of preservation. Our people still maintain our culture very protectively and very well, but with all that we have protected, we also carry great worry, because of all that surrounds us where we live. People who use the forest hunt animals to a great extent, take part in logging activities, and deforest the forest to make way for pastures. Our rivers cannot exist without the forest, our animals cannot live without the forest, and we ourselves depend on these plants and animals for our consumption, for our existence.
Deforesting was one of the greatest catastrophes that happened in our territory. People felled our forests, and that made our rivers very dry. There were many species of fish that disappeared, as the forest has been cut down, many kinds of animals also disappeared, or disappeared from that region at least. We have experienced a lot more heatwaves now, almost unbearable heatwaves. There would be rains during the summer time as if it were winter time, and also dryness during the rainy season. There’s been growing lightning storms and hurricane storms that would come and uproot many trees. We had great floods that caused many animals to die, and even people. Because of climatic changes, there are many species of trees whose fruits are borne before the correct time of the year. All the people who live in the forest realize that over the last 30 years, the changes have been very significant.
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