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Indigenous leader: Yanomami wouldn't have survived without world's help


The indigenous leader of the Yanomami tribe, Davi Kopenawa, better known as the Dalai Lama of the Amazon, in an intervention in London in 2009. EFE/FILE


Stockholm, December 4 (efe-epa).- Davi Kopenawa, a shaman and Brazilian indigenous leader who is one of the winners of the so-called Alternative Nobel Prize for 2019, believes support from abroad has been crucial to the survival of the Yanomami indigenous group.

"If you (foreigners) hadn't been able to do a good job for us, our people would have died, we wouldn't have been protected," he told Efe in an interview.

"The Brazilian people don't value my people, they're not interested, they're only bothered about mining, gold, taking from the land and dirtying the rivers."

Kopenawa and the Jutukara Yanomami association, which he co-founded in 2004, have been awarded this year's Right Livelihood Award for their efforts to protect woodland and biodiversity in the Amazon and the lands and culture of indigenous peoples.

The award distinguishes an over three-decade-long fight that gained ground after the Yanomami, one of Brazil's most populous ethnic groups that occupy the world's largest indigenous territory, were invaded in 1987 by gold diggers, decimating a fifth of the population in seven years.

In 1992, the campaign led by Kopenawa and the NGO Survival International achieved the demarcation of over 96,000 square kilometers, which improved the situation "quite a bit."

But the gold-digging remains a problem.

"Though the gold diggers went, the bad didn't. They brought illnesses like malaria and flu.

"And in 2014, the invaders returned. We calculated that there are now 25,000 of them or more," lamented the indigenous leader.

A Yanomami commission traveled to Brasilia in July to present a territorial and environmental management plan to the authorities and the National Indian Foundation (Funai) in a bid to reverse the situation.

"We asked the Garimpeiros (gold diggers) be taken out. In September and October half of them left, but shortly after they came back again," according to Kopenawa.

Although the laws on extracting minerals date back years, President Jair Bolsonaro's rise to power has bolstered activities in the sector, posing a serious threat to the future of indigenous communities.

"Mining is not good for our people, it's illegal," said Kopenawa.

"Heavy machinery and lots of people are going to come in to build roads for transportation. They're only going to bring problems, fights, diseases, alcoholism and arrival of a despicable people who kill the Native Indians and lots of pollution to our rivers."

Kopenawa recalled that his lands have been recognized and authorized under federal laws and asked for "respect" from the authorities.

Climate change is being felt in the Amazon, where pollution has become a big concern.

"Who's dirtying our land? Governments. They created pollution in the city and they're polluting the planet. We, the indigenous peoples, have protected it for a long time. We are not to blame, the fault lies with the capital, the state," he said.

Kopenawa has taken his cause to national and global forums, and received awards like the UN Global Award.

"It is my mission to travel around the world to talk about our situation, our problems, to be able to find support.

"I'm not coming for a walk, to speak for the sake of speaking, but to tell the truth."

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