My introduction to becoming a legal adult, went a little something like this: waking up to my mother coming into my room to wish me a happy 18th birthday, me getting ready for school, me arriving at school and leading a demonstration against gun violence with Culver City high schoolers, middle schoolers, faculty, staff and community members. Nothing felt more empowering to see an entire football field fill up with people who also felt my outrage and who also wanted to see change. That experience invoked in me a sense of hope that I will never forget, and it inspires me to continue to pursue justice.
It's the faces of my peers, the outrage we all felt that day and the glimpse of hope for justice in everyone's eyes that I am reminded about while I write this op-ed. There's another group of people in Brazil who are also vulnerable to homicide and violence at the moment and this group is not only restricted to students. My hope is that by spreading news about this, I will invoke outrage in everyone in the same way that gun violence in schools did that day and inspire people to take action.
If you don't know anything about Brazilian history and politics, here's a quick run-down: In 2018, far-right, pro-business president Jair Bolsonaro was elected into office, which was bad news for indigenous communities, afro-Brazilians, and any other historically marginalized group you can think of. Before Bolsonaro entered office, Brazil following the end of the military dictatorship and the signing of the 1988 Brazilian Constitution was making significant social justice gains: one being more demarcation of land for indigenous peoples and afro-Brazilians. Logging businesses and cattle ranchers, who wanted to use that land to exploit natural resources, met these changes with resistance. Over time, as multiple corruption scandals started to surface, some involving social justice-oriented political leaders, and following the 2014 economic recession under the leadership of left-wing government, the Workers Party (PT), right-wing pro-business thinkers became more vocal about their opinions and eventually helped elect the current president. When he became president, Bolsonaro's government began pulling back on enforcement measures like fines, warnings and the seizure or destruction of illegal equipment in protected areas along with decreasing government funding for environmental protection agencies. These political decisions align with Bolsonaros promises during the 2017 presidential campaign: "not a centimeter will be demarcated either as an indigenous reserve or as a quilombola" (land owned by descendants of African runaway slaves). The message became clear: Brazilian rainforests are the new Wild West, and those who kill indigenous peoples in the name of "progress and development" will not be held accountable.
As you might imagine, Bolsonaro's public remarks and policy changes essentially opened the door for illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and miners to incite violence against indigenous communities and destroy natural landscapes to exploit resources. In the first nine months of the Bolsonaro government, there have been 160 cases of land invasion, illegal exploitation of natural resources, and damage to property in 153 indigenous territories have been reported. When indigenous peoples resist, they are met with violence. In recent times, there have been multiple reports of indigenous tribe leaders being violently assassinated. In total, there has been an increase of almost 27% in homicide rates of indigenous peoples from 2017 to 2018 alone, Roraima being the most violent.
If you think that land invasions, violence and displacement in indigenous communities, only affect indigenous peoples, you are far from right. Less protection of indigenous reserves also means less protection of some of the world's most essential natural landscapes: rainforests. The genocide against indigenous peoples is matched with significant increases in deforestation. In June alone, there was a drastic increase in deforestation rates with 88% more forest cover lost than in June of last year. It's important to note that Brazil is home to part of the world's largest rainforest and arguably the most important one. The Amazon is home to a fifth of the earth's supply of fresh water. It also serves as an important "carbon sink," soaking up carbon dioxide and helping keep global temperatures from rising. In hyper-consumerist cultures fueled by globalization, it is important, now more than ever, to preserve the Amazon rainforest in order to help make up for the mass pollution we release in our atmosphere each day.
This starts with the protection and expansion of indigenous reserves. For centuries, indigenous peoples have managed land in harmonious ways with nature, through lifestyle and culture. Where indigenous peoples have been able to sustain their native cultures and practices, biodiversity thrives, and helps fuel the rest of the planet's lives also thrive. Not only do they deserve to have their lands protected after (and during) years of systematic oppression, slavery, and discrimination, they actually take care of it a lot better than any agrobusiness or cattle rancher ever would. We need to start giving more attention to the indigenous genocide that is occurring in Brazil, because if we don't, we lose a lot more than "just" a rich and lively group of people who deserve to live lives without fear of being persecuted and whose culture deserves to be recognized, honored and respected.
What the gun violence protests and the phenomenas occurring in Brazil highlights, is the interconnectedness of all lives across regional differences. One school shooting in Parkland inspired mass protests all over the country, demanding structural change. I believe that this happened because there was a fundamental understanding that their struggle, was ours too; when their lives are threatened so is ours. Indigenous people's struggle for the demarcation and protection of Brazilian rainforests is not so far off from our global struggle to mitigate the effects of climate change and allow humanity to continue to thrive for generations to come. Their fight is our fight, our children's fight, and the fight of many more generations to come. It's time that we stop removing ourselves from global issues, because as long we are all still on this tiny little rock in this vast universe that we call planet earth, these issues affect us too.