This month in Paris, some of my photos from Brazil will be exhibited at the Maison des Associations in the 11th Arrondissement as part of a show called “Looking to the Future: Children of Amazonia and Mexamerica” (“Regard sur l’Avenir; enfants de l’amazonie et Méxamérique”). The Facebook event is here. The exhibit will be up through the month of March. On March 22, the documentary Voix d’Amazonie (Amazon Voices — trailer here)will be shown. If you’re in Paris, check it out!
Here’s a blurry pic of the last show in Paris, in December, which I neglected to mention on this blog. Since I happened to be in town reporting on the Tribunal for the Rights of Nature I was able to stop by. The two photos at bottom left are mine:
25th anniversary of Constitution sees massive mobilisation across country and around the world
Night is falling in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Territory. In the centre of a thatch-roof hut stands Raoni Metuktire, cacique (chief) of the Kayapó people. All day long, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the territory, other indigenous leaders have been speaking on everything from the need for better education to the dangers of the Belo Monte mega-dam being built in the Amazon.
The third largest dam in the world, Belo Monte will flood 500 square km and dry up 100 km of river. The particular section of the river most affected is home to communities of the Kayapó, Juruna and Arara tribes, among others, and a total of 20,000 people will be displaced. Belo Monte, one of dozens of giant dam projects planned for the Amazon region, typifies the Brazilian government’s preference for development over conservation.
Raoni begins a war dance and a low chant that builds to a crescendo. He speaks forcefully, in the Kayapó language.
His nephew Megaron Txucarramãe, himself a highly esteemed Kayapó leader, translates: “I want you to feel strong, you are great! I want to see you fighting!”
The wooden disk in Raoni’s lip punctuates his exhortation. The gathered tribes, from the Arara to the Xavante, painted in ink made from the genipapo fruit, loudly cheer their assent.
A famous picture of Raoni has lately made the rounds on the internet. In it he sits, head in his hands, overcome by emotion. The photo is usually captioned something like: “Chief Raoni cries for his forest.”
The photo points to an essential truth – Brazil’s tropical forest is being destroyed at an accelerating rate, and Raoni is a legendary and outspoken defender of indigenous rights. But the picture is not what it seems. According to the Daily Kos, the actual explanation for Raoni’s display of emotion is that he has just been reunited with a member of his family.
The danger of facile Facebook memes like this one is that they distort reality. In this case, the picture could be considered to rob Raoni of his agency. It harkens back to the “crying Indian” ads of the 1970s in the U.S. (The actor in which, incidentally, was an Italian-American in makeup and a wig, and which may have contributed to more pollutionthan it prevented.) Such images depict natives as passive victims, taking it lying – in Raoni’s case, sitting – down, while the bad white guys take their land and pollute their water.
The story is, of course, based on five centuries of truth. And in countries with any surviving indigenous populations, it goes on today. According to the NGO Survival International, a proposed Brazilian constitutional amendment would give Congress the power to participate in the demarcation of indigenous lands. A bill currently under discussion would open up indigenous land for army bases, mining, dams and other industrial projects, and another would open up indigenous reserves to large-scale mining for the first time. More at The Platform >
In the year 2004, for once the government of Guatemala broke with the tradition of impunity and officially acknowledged that Myrna Mack was killed by order of the country’s president.
Myrna had undertaken forbidden research. Despite receiving threats, she had gone deep into the jungles and mountains to find exiles wandering in their own country, the indigenous survivors of the military’s massacres. She collected their voices.
In 1989, at a conference of social scientists, an anthropologist from the United States complained about the pressure universities exert to continually produce: “In my country if you don’t publish, you perish.”
And Myrna replied: “In my country if you publish, you perish.”
She was stabbed to death.
From Eduardo Galeano’s new book Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, excerpted at Toward Freedom.
I’m ashamed to admit I had never heard of Myrna Mack. In reading up on her story I learned she was stabbed, 27 times, outside her downtown Guatemala City office on Sept. 11, 1990. At the time of her death, she had been researching and publishing information about the plight of internally displaced persons in Guatemala. In 1993, a low-level sergeant was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the crime.
In February 2003 the Inter-American Court on Human Rights heard oral arguments in the case brought by the Mack family against the Guatemalan government for allegedly failing to ensure timely justice in the Mack case. On December 19, 2003, the Court unanimously found Guatemala in violation of Articles 1 (obligation to respect rights), 4 (right to life), 5 (humane treatment), 8 (judicial guarantees) and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
In April 2004, President Oscar Berger joined the heads of Congress and the Supreme Court on Thursday in publicly acknowledging government responsibility for the 1990 killing of human rights activist Myrna Mack.
“In the name of the state, I ask for the forgiveness of the Mack family and of the people of Guatemala for the murder of this young anthropologist,” Berger said.
"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy