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Can't see the wood for the trees?





In the same week that Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially launched the UK's preparations for the COP26 UN climate talks, several 'Guardians of the Rainforest' have appealed to him for the Amazon to take central stage. Renowned indigenous advocate Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, sometimes referred to as the 'Dalai Lama of the Rainforest', (pictured below), has, together with other tribal leaders from Brazil, made an urgent appeal to the UK government to recognise the Amazon's vital role in mitigating climate change and face the threats that their communities and the wider world is facing - as the region is plundered and destroyed. They have asked him "to ensure that no gold, other minerals or agricultural products from our lands come to the UK."


Davi, who was recently awarded the Right Livelihood Award (known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize') alongside Greta Thumberg, for his advocacy work, has been leading his people's campaign to protect their Amazonian territory for over two decades. In 2004, with other Yanomami leaders, he founded the Yanomami rights organisation Hutukara which means 'the part of the sky from which the earth was born'. In recent years the Yanomami territory has been invaded by around 20,000 goldminers, who have polluted the rivers with mercury and attacked Yanomami villagers whilst also spreading devastating diseases which have wiped out vast numbers of people (referred to by HRH Prince Charles as 'genocide'). Davi himself was orphaned as a child when his parents died from illnesses transmitted by outsiders. Early last year, in response to President Bolsonaro's war on indigenous people, Davi and other leaders organised the biggest ever protest for indigenous rights worldwide.


Photos: Fiona Watson/Survival


In the leaders' current joint letter handed in to No 10, they have denounced plans by the Brazilian Government to open up indigenous territories for mining and instead they've called on the UK government to use its hosting of the UN Climate Conference in November "to put tribal peoples centre stage and recognise our key role in conserving some of the most biodiverse and threatened regions of the world for the benefit of humanity".


" We are the true guardians of the forest and have cared for the animals, the birds, the fish, the rivers, the mountains since time immemorial", they say. "Our knowledge is not only essential for the future of our children and grandchildren, but for yours too because the Amazon plays a vital role in mitigating climate change".


As a child, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, learned Portuguese from a Christian mission who sought to convert isolated people and whilst remaining true to his core Shamanic heritage, the language became useful in enabling him to speak out on his people's behalf. He's travelled extensively and brought attention to international presidents and heads of states and despite frequently being threatened by the gold miners and politicians he's still speaking out now.


To find out more Survival International and the Catholic Aid Agency CAFOD are two of the agencies that support Davi and the work of Hutukara.