A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman

Photograph Source: The Institute for Inclusive Security – CC BY 2.0

Last year, we all watched in horror as the Amazon rainforest burned at an unprecedented rate. We cannot afford to lose it, especially amid a climate emergency. It’s vast greenery releases oxygen and stores carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas that causes of global warming. The death of the Amazon would mean the end of life on Earth.

Indigenous peoples of the Amazon have been on the frontlines of protecting the rainforest since colonization began.

Joênia Wapixana, from the Indigenous nation of Wapichana, is the first Indigenous woman elected to the Chamber of Deputies in Brazil. She recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congresswomen Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

She came to share her concern over the imminent dangers that now threatens the very existence of the Amazon rainforest, as well as the survival of the Indigenous Tribespeople who call it home. Joênia is the only Indigenous representative in the Brazilian Parliament.

I had the opportunity to interview her during her visit.

She is extremely worried about human rights violations against Indigenous peoples of the Amazon that are ever-growing in frequency and severity, as well as the Amazon ecosystem itself. Wapixana sees both as global issues that falls under international affairs.

According to Wapixana, the rights of Indigenous peoples of Brazil are being constantly attacked and the current conditions in the Amazon promote their genocide. “The violations of our rights, the paralyzation of the demarcation of Indigenous lands, the invasions of our territories, have only grown in the second year under the government of Bolsonaro.” She also says that new projects, like a recently passed mining bill, reinforce the use of violence against Indigenous.

Congresswoman Wapixana came to the United States because she believes we can help. She says that the violation of human rights should be an issue for all people, regardless of race, color, creed, or colonial borders, and that while 98.7% of the Amazon is Indigenous land, she sees the rainforest, being the lungs of the planet, as belonging to everyone. Along with that sense of ownership comes responsibility. As a result, all of humanity has a duty to protect the Amazon.

One thing that the United States government can do to assist in the protection of the Amazon is to build measures and pass laws that prohibit the advancement and circulation of products that are being illegally extracted from the Amazon, like soy, timber and minerals, that enter the market as a direct result of the exploitation of Indigenous territories there.

“We have seen a lot of growth of products leaving Brazil without any fiscalization or monitoring. Measures could be put into place, with the national congress through administrative mechanisms, so that these products don’t arrive in the United States as products that are fruits of illegal invasions on Indigenous territories and which may contain, shall we say, situations that are contributing to the genocide of indigenous peoples in Brazil,” Wapixana reiterates.

The destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the threat of extinction to Indigenous Nations who have ancestral lands there weighs heavy on her heart. She wants us to preserve the world for our children and grandchildren.

“We, Indigenous peoples, for many years have been reinforcing these values that come from our ancestors. This is not just an ideological discourse or a vague thought, but are necessary actions that we need to take to fight the climate crisis so future generations are not doomed…and to make sure that, in a few years’ time, we, as Indigenous peoples, will not be relegated to books and the past.”

Additionally, Joênia sees women as being an important part of saving the Amazon, ending the climate crisis, protecting the rights of all and shaping our shared global future. “I encourage them to take an increasingly leading role in the defense of rights. It’s also essential to build policy to strengthen women, especially Indigenous women, who still have a dream of being a part of the decision-making process in their countries.”

Despite the dire warnings she brings, Congresswoman Wapixana remains hopeful, closing with:

“É possível construir um mundo melhor, um mundo mais sustentável, um mundo mais justo, um mundo que tenha o respeito à diversidade étnica, cultural, e ambiental.”


“It’s possible to build a better world, a more sustainable world, a more just world, a world that has respect for ethnic diversity, cultural and environmental.”

We must join forces to build a better future and ensure our mutual survival. We are all connected. We will rise or fall, together. The time to act is now. Stand with Indigenous, save the Amazon.

More articles by:

Ruth H. Hopkins is a Dakota/Lakota Sioux writer, journalist, Indigenous media consultant, former judge & co-founder of Lastrealindians.com.

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