Brazilian activists, intellectuals and policy actors visit Oxford to debate attacks on indigenous rights

12 February, 2020

Associate Professor Laura Rival in collaboration with the ‘agrocultures’ research network brought together renowned academics, film-makers, indigenous leaders and public intellectuals from Brazil as well as multi-disciplinary specialists on the Brazilian Amazon for a series of high-profile academic events in January and February.

The main objective of the events was to provide a safe space for information-sharing, analysis and debate between academics and policy actors in the context of unprecedented attacks against the rights of  indigenous peoples in Brazil and the rolling back of government policies that have for decades helped protect the integrity of the Amazon forest and the well-being of its 30 million inhabitants.

At a conference held 31 January-2 February at ODID and Rhodes House, Brazil’s leading indigenous chief, Raoni Metuktire, shared with attendees the content of the Piaraçu manifesto, a response from representatives of 47 tribes to recent actions by the government of Jair Bolsonaro, while Yanomami leaders Davi and Dario Kopenawa led a political dialogue with Masai leaders who are currently working at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Joenia Wapixana, recently elected to Brazil’s Congress and current president of Brazil’s National Commission for the Defence of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Charles Trocante from Para’s Landless Movement gave powerful testimonies about the determination of Amazonian peoples to defend the forest and the exemplary environmental protection laws for which Brazil has received international recognition.

The renowned Brazilian film director Jorge Bodanzky showed a preview of his new documentary Amazon, the new Minamata?, which follows Brazilian epidemiologists and health specialists as they document dangerous levels of mercury contamination caused by gold mining.

On 6 February, a unique and experimental knowledge exchange event took place at the Maison Française d’Oxford between Davi and Dario Kopenawa and Oxford-based academics around the topic of plurality and diversity in the face of accelerated climate change. While there was not enough time to do justice to the profound issues raised, everyone agreed that starting the dialogue was historically important and right.

The visit also saw the indigenous leaders deliver a letter to 10 Downing Street, calling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to condemn the actions of Bolsonaro’s government.