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Environment Raoni and Txai: two generations of struggle for indigenous peoples’ rights and forest preservation

Indigenous leader Raoni Metuktire (left) and Txai Suruí (right) (Art: Catarine Hak/Cenarium)

Victória Sales – Cenarium Magazine

MANAUS – The fight for indigenous rights and, consequently, the preservation of forests goes beyond generations and unites two figures that carry in themselves great power of representativeness: Raoni Metuktire, 89 years old, a symbol of leadership in defense of the Amazon, and the young activist Txai Suruí, 24 years old, part of the growing mobilization undertaken by indigenous people in Brazil. Despite belonging to different generations, both bear yet another similarity: they have become targets of attacks by President Jair Bolsonaro (no party).

Raoni is one of the main leaders in defense of indigenous peoples. At the age of 15, he started wearing the Labret, a wooden lip adornment that represents the warriors and spokesmen of the people. In 1978, Raoni’s story reached Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, a Belgian director who produced some documentaries about the history of the great leader. The feature film showed the fight for the Amazon and the protection of the indigenous peoples to the world, and was nominated for an Oscar.

He currently lives in the Xingu National Park and became internationally known with the help of singer Sting, who held a caravan in 17 countries asking for help for causes against deforestation in 1980. In 2019, the leader met again with international rulers and officials, such as Pope Francis.

Following an attack by Jair Bolsonaro’s president at the opening speech of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2020, Raoni told the press that his thoughts are for the preservation and guarantee of indigenous peoples’ rights. “Bolsonaro said that I am not a leadership, but he is the one who is not a leadership and has to leave. Before something very bad happens, he has to leave, for the good of all”, he defended.

Cacique Raoni on the floor of the House of Representatives during a formal session in honor of the indigenous people (Geraldo Magela/Agência Senado)

Predestined

When Txai was only six years old, her father, indigenous leader Almir Surui, placed her on a tree trunk and announced that she would follow in his footsteps. Eighteen years later, the indigenous woman has gained international prominence from her speech at the opening of the COP26. From the Lapetänha village, in the Indigenous Land (TI) 7 de Setembro, which covers Rondônia and Mato Grosso, Txai Suruí was the only indigenous woman from Latin America, and the only Brazilian, to speak at the opening of the COP26.

Daughter of two well-known indigenous leaders in Brazil, Chief Almir and Neidinha Surui, Txai learned from an early age the importance of protecting and defending the territory of these peoples. She grew up seeing her parents being threatened with death by illegal miners who invade indigenous lands. “The leaders need to know that what we are living in the Amazon is also their responsibility”, she stressed at COP26.

Read more: Txai Surui’s stance, criticized by Bolsonaro, reflects youth’s awakening to activism

The indigenous activist Txai Suruí (Reproduction/Instagram)

Attacks

In 2012, Txai and her family had to be escorted by the National Force after receiving threats from miners. “She said she would rather die than live all the time with the police by her side, because that was not freedom and it was not fair to live that way for defending the territory”, Neidinha recalled to the Correio Braziliense.

This year, Chief Almir Surui was one of the targets of a Federal Police investigation after criticizing the federal government. The leader was ordered to testify for the crime of defamation allegedly committed against the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI).

“I feel very honored and very responsible to carry all of this. Of you representing and taking the voice of your people to the world, which is what I am trying to do. I had to be here, doing what I am doing, speaking what I am speaking. Because this needs to be done, needs to be heard, and needs to be spoken about”, Txai highlights in a video to Mídia Ninja about her participation at COP26.

Txai is a law student and works in the legal center of the Association for Ethnoenvironmental Defense of the Kanindé community, in Roraima. In 2021, she created the Indigenous Youth Movement of Rondonia with more than 1.7 thousand young people. Txai has as one of her greatest references the rap group Racionais MCs.

(Mídia Ninja)

At COP26

Like Raoni, Txai has also become the target of direct attacks by the federal government. On Wednesday 3rd, instead of participating in the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021 (COP26), the President of the Republic preferred to criticize the young indigenous activist, who spoke at the opening of the event, in Glasgow, Scotland.

According to Bolsonaro, Txai went to COP26 to replace Raoni and also to attack Brazil. “They are complaining that I didn’t go to Glasgow. They took an ‘Indian’ there, to replace Raoni, to attack Brazil. Has anyone seen a German attacking Germany’s fossil energy?” he questioned.

On social media, Txai explains that one cannot close one’s eyes to reality. “Any literate person saw that I did not criticize Brazil, but we cannot close our eyes to reality. We will only reach solutions when we recognize where we are going wrong”, she concluded.

Indigenous activist, Txai Suruí (Reproduction/Instagram)