Indigenous Ka'apor standing in a double row in front of two huts in the forest Ka'apor villagers (© Poema/Johann Graf) Back to overview

Brazil: Help the indigenous Ka'apor defend the Amazon rainforest

The indigenous Ka'apor have preserved the last large area of rainforest in the southeastern Amazon, but they are under siege by loggers, cattle ranchers and mining companies. Please help the Ka'apor with a donation to mount an effective defense against the encroachment and keep their ancestral forest safe.

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Alto Turiaçu, the recognized ancestral territory of the indigenous Ka'apor people in Brazil's Maranhão state, is a 531,000-hectare old-growth forest. An area more than three times the size of London, it stands out like a lush green island amid a sea of destruction. There, in the northeast of Brazil, the Amazon rainforest gradually transitions into the tropical savannas of the Cerrado.

The unique conditions provide a habitat for an enormous variety of animals and plants. Some species, such as the critically endangered Ka'apor capuchin monkey (Cebus kaapori) and the endangered black bearded saki (Chiropotes satanas), have one of their last habitats in Alto Turiaçu.

 

The Ka'apor: defending their ancestral rainforest

The Ka'apor, who number around 1,800, are one of the more than 300 indigenous peoples of Brazil. With their way of life, the Ka'apor have defended their territory against illegal invaders and plunderers and protected the land against deforestation. Timber and mining companies, cattle ranchers, large landowners and land grabbers have almost completely cleared the rainforest right up to the edge of the protected area and are now encroaching on it. The existing protected area is only a remnant of an originally much larger territory that had been stolen from the Ka'apor in recent decades.

Loggers operating in the area are cutting the ipé, massaranduba and cedro trees, and the tropical woods are exported to Europe and elsewhere for the production of garden furniture, parquet and wooden decking. Poachers are decimating the area's abundant wildlife. Mining companies have acquired many thousands of hectares of concessions from the state to mine gold.

A spiral of lawlessness, violence and corruption

All of this is happening before the eyes of state officials and the Brazilian authorities, who stand idly by, ignoring the complaints and demands of the indigenous people. Furthermore, many civil servants and politicians are corrupt and involved in the activities.

The Brazilian government under President Bolsonaro and the parliament, which is dominated by lobby groups from agriculture and industry, actively discredit indigenous people and violate their constitutionally guaranteed rights.

The Ka'apor are exposed to massive threats and extreme violence: Since 2015, two villages have been raided by loggers and 15 people have been murdered by outsiders. None of the crimes have been solved by the Brazilian authorities, and to date not a single perpetrator has been convicted.

The strategies of the Ka'apor

In recent years, the Ka'apor have developed their own self-defense strategies. To implement them, they have formed a council of indigenous leaders that makes decisions jointly.

To better protect their forest, many of the Ka'apor have settled in newly established villages on the outskirts of their territory – mostly in cleared logging camps or along roads leading into the territory. The Ka'apor have blocked 25 such logging roads, giving them better control over the boundaries of the rainforest.

Within the area, the Kaapor continuously monitor the rainforest with their own forest ranger teams, which apprehend illegal loggers and poachers and expel them from their territory. They have disabled more than a hundred logging trucks to date.

The Ka'apor have now established eleven protected areas around the settlements. The people secure their livelihoods with with agroforestry – the combination of agriculture with trees. Through the Center for Education and Preservation of Ka'apor Knowledge (Centro de Formação Saberes Kaapor - CFSK), founded in 2012 by the Council of Indigenous Leaders, they have created their own education system, teaching children and young people in their own language and educating them with their own values. In addition to education, the Center's work focuses on protecting the territory, health and food security, strengthening the indigenous culture and language, and ensuring sustainable development.

How are we supporting the Ka'apor?

In 2021, we established the project "Etnomapeamento e Autodefesa do território para governança Kaapor" together with our partner organization CFSK and are currently funding it. As part of the project, work continues on dividing the Alto Turiaçu territory into different management, use and protection zones together with the inhabitants, and on drawing up plans for their self-defense. To do this, meetings in the villages need to be organized and carried out, forest ranger groups established, the area surveyed, maps created, material and technical equipment purchased and much more. In addition, the Ka'apor need to pay for legal support.

With donations from Rainforest Rescue and two other organizations, the CFSK purchased a used off-road vehicle (4x4 pickup) in late 2021 to transport people and materials to the territory. Furthermore, a project for the empowerment of women in the organization and in indigenous society is planned.

Forest conservation and indigenous territories in Brazil

In Brazil, 567 indigenous territories covering an area of 1.17 million square kilometers – almost a quarter of the Brazilian Amazon – have been recognized so far. A further 117 indigenous territories have applied for recognition. Indigenous people protect their territories and their environment much more effectively than state rainforest protection areas, as the United Nations has also noted.

 

  1. as the United Nations has also notedFAO and FILAC. 2021. Forest governance by indigenous and tribal peoples. An opportunity for climate action in Latin America and the Caribbean. Santiago. FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb2953en

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