Empowering an Amazon Town: River’s Revival Tale

On the banks of the Komi Memem river, the activity never stops: the women descend the embankment of the village of Laje Velho with basins to wash clothes, while the men embark in small canoes for hunting and fishing expeditions. fishing. At the end of the day, it’s the children’s turn to dive into its tea-colored waters.

The river, named Laje on non-indigenous maps, is vital to the Oro Waram, one of six subgroups of the Wari’ people, who have inhabited the western Amazon for centuries. However, this age-old relationship is increasingly under threat. The relentless expansion of soybeans and pastures encroaches on their land, while land thieves encourage illegal deforestation.

To protect themselves, the Wari have resorted to a new strategy: the law of the white man. In June, the municipality of Guajara-Mirim passed a groundbreaking law proposed by an indigenous councilor that designates the Komi Memem and its tributaries as living entities with rights, ranging from maintaining their natural flow to protecting the forest that sustains them. surrounded.

The law comes as representatives of eight South American governments meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Brazil to discuss ways to preserve the Amazon rainforest to help fight climate change and protect its indigenous peoples.

The Komi Memem, a tributary of a larger river that is unprotected, is now the first of hundreds of rivers in the Brazilian Amazon to have a law granting it personhood. It’s part of a new legislative approach to protecting nature that has made its way to many parts of the world, from New Zealand to Chile.

“We are organizing more to repel the invaders,” Councilman Francisco Oro Waram, the sponsor of the law, told The Associated Press. “We cannot fight with arrows; we have to use the laws.

A teacher by profession, Oro Waram lives with his family in the village of Laje Velho, a 40-minute drive from downtown Guajara-Mirim, mostly on a paved highway surrounded by pastures. Just before entering the village, heavy machinery was preparing the ground for soybean crops, which are rapidly replacing cattle ranching in this part of the Amazon in the state of Rondonia.

“There are many generations ahead, so the elders protect the water,” Oro Waram said of the river. “We don’t pollute it or cut down the trees around it. He is a living being for us.

Satellite images show the encirclement of the Igarapé Lage Indigenous Land, a green rectangle amid deforestation. This is where Laje Velho is. In recent decades, the federal government has created six non-continuous Indigenous territories. One, Rio Negro Ocaia, is awaiting federal government approval for expanded boundaries established by an anthropological study 15 years ago.

The Wari’ people lived independently until the late 1950s and early 1960s and constitute the largest group of speakers of Chapakuran, an isolated language family. In the first years after contact with outsiders, three out of five Wari died of introduced diseases, falling to 400 people. The population has increased tenfold since then, but they now occupy less than a third of their original territory, according to Vanderbilt University anthropologist Beth Conklin, who has worked with them for nearly four decades.

“The Wari’ appreciate their cosmology and their rituals. And all of this is centered around promoting human flourishing in relationship with the non-human, with the larger world and the well-being of your people,” Conklin told the AP. “This law is therefore a 21st century update of those very traditional social, biological and ecological values that are central to the Wari culture. »

The expansion of soybeans, with crops heavily dependent on pesticides, poses a significant threat to the Komi Memem River. But it’s not the only one. Upstream from Laje Velho, an invasion of land thieves has prevented the Wari’ people from accessing their main fishing grounds.

Additionally, the sources of the river are located near Guajará-Mirim State Park, an ancient Wari’ territory. Although it is a protected area, it has been extensively overrun and deforested by land grabbers in recent years.

Instead of evicting them, state governor Marcos Rocha, an ally of far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro, in 2021 signed a law reducing park boundaries to legalize land grabbing. A court order later overturned this law, but the invasion and deforestation did not stop.

Last 1st, the tea-colored water of the river turned muddy red, spooky Oro Waram. “I had never seen it in my life,” said the 48-year-old, who attributes the episode to rampant illegal deforestation.

The councilor says that due to pollution from cattle ranches and soybean crops, his village no longer drinks water directly from the river, as their ancestors did. Instead, they rely on artesian wells.

Sometimes the threat is very direct. On June 6, around 60 armed men invaded the village of Linha 26, expelling its inhabitants. They only returned after federal police arrived at the scene and took it over, according to the umbrella organization Wari’.

“The loggers came in and divided the indigenous lands,” Gilmar Oro Nao, vice-president of the Oro Wari’ association, told the AP. “They threaten food security. Our relatives have nowhere to fish, the Brazil walnut trees have been cut down. Today, they have nowhere to draw their survival.

Oro Nao said the Wari’ did not trust the local employees of the National Indian Foundation. He said there is a widespread suspicion that they are collaborating with illegal loggers and land grabbers.

The AP sent emails to the Indian Foundation, but received no response. The federal prosecutor’s office, whose responsibility includes monitoring Indigenous rights, said it has opened an investigation into the invasions and is monitoring the situation.

The Wari hope that the new law granting the river personhood can help remedy what they see as the inaction of Funai and the federal prosecutor’s office. Its main provision creates a committee to monitor the river with a council that would include indigenous and non-indigenous members, including a representative from the Federal University of Rondonia.

The committee will produce an annual report on the state of the river and will propose actions to guarantee the rights guaranteed by the new law.

In an Amazon region where agribusiness has become the economic engine, many were surprised that the law was unanimously approved by the city council of Guajara-Mirim, a city of 40,000 people with more than 90% of its territory within protected areas.

“We are very satisfied with the law. It has given visibility to our municipality and sets an example for other cities and indigenous territories,” said Mayor Raissa Paes Bento, who signed the law.

Protecting the Komi Memem River is also important for non-indigenous residents, Bento said, because fishing is a major economic activity and source of food. “It’s very good to have it kept and clean. »

This article is originally published on news-24.fr

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