In September, Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest had a record outbreak of fires that continued to threaten its stability as an ecosystem. As the environment in Brazil continues to collapse and affect the lives of its residents, 19-year indigenous activist, Artemisa Xakriabá, desperately seeks to warn the world about the effects climate change will have on Brazil’s indigenous communities.
Both as a teenager and a member of Brazil’s Xakriabá tribe, Artemisa represents two demographics primarily affected by climate change. Like many others her age, Artemisa fully realizes the consequences of ignoring environmental issues and is eager to fight for her life and the lives of others like her. At the same time, her indigenous identity makes her vulnerable to the catastrophic impacts that climate change imposes on indigenous people and their land.
The Xakriabá tribe are the indigenous residents of Brazil who occupied the land pre-Portugese colonization. While they once populated much of Brazil’s Minas Gerais state, their numbers continue to dwindle due to the impacts of environmental disaster. Deforestation in Xakriabá territories threatens the tribe’s very existence.
Artemisa, however, is fighting against the likes of the most powerful man in Brazil, the far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. At a United Nations (UN) general assembly in September, Bolsonaro denied that the fires were devastating the Amazon rainforest, despite a mass of scientific evidence from his own government’s environmental sector. He claims that the media has created unnecessary panic among the public, and wholly considers climate change “a globalist conspiracy.”
Bolsonaro’s negligence has caused outrage among indiegenous residents like Artemisa. Not only does he continue to ignore the disastrous effects of climate change, he continually blames indigneous people for the Amazonian fires.
Across the globe, indigenous communities reside on about a quarter of the planet’s land. Those territories are not just home to humans, but to a striking eighty percent of the world’s diverse organisms. In a 2008 study, the World Bank stated that indigenous peoples play a significant role in protecting vulnerable environmental areas. Similarly, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently argued that protecting indigienous land is crucial in saving the planet.
Brazil’s Amazon covers nearly sixty-five percent of the Amazon region, and it is especially vulnerable to climate change. Because a magnitude of plant and animal life depend on the rainforest for survival, its destruction could lead to an obliteration of resources for human beings. On top of this, Brazil faces serious issues with adequate infrastructure and logistical measures that ensure the protection and conservation of these ecosystems in the event of a natural disaster.
Back at the September youth climate strike in New York City, Artemisa fought along many other teens to call attention to rising environmental issues.
“We are fighting for our sacred territory. But we are being persecuted, threatened, murdered, only for protecting our own territories. We cannot accept one more drop of indigenous blood spilled. We often say that nature is our mother, because she gives us life, she gives us food. We have a duty to defend her,” said Artemisa.