6 Questions With Chief Raoni of Brazil During His Last Visit to Paris
Chief Raoni Metuktire recognized by his labret, an ornamental disk worn by warriors on their lower lip showing they are ready to die for their land, has become synonymous with the struggle of his indigenous Kayapo people in Brazil’s Amazon.
For four decades he has fought for the preservation of the rainforests, while risking his life at times for what he believes in according to raoni.com. Standing for his people has put Raoni in contact with world leaders while traveling all over the world never losing his dignity and still living in a hut and owning nothing.
Last November, the “charismatic leader” visited with Francois Hollande, president of France, in Paris, which he said was his “last [visit] outside Brazil” due to being too tired to travel abroad at his age. His age is unclear, but has placed him in his early 80s, as the specific year or day is unclear on when he was born.
During his visit, Raoni gave a series of speeches, in the company of his future successor – nephew Megaron Txucarramae – calling to public attention the present preoccupations of the Kayapos: the interruption of the Belo Monte Dam construction, and the demarcation of the Native lands.
Megaron, who has followed his uncle’s footsteps almost to the tee, is a former employee of FUNAI, and director of the Xingu National Park – dismissed in 2011 for his opposition to the construction of the Belo Monte Dam.
Megaron met Villas-Boas, two anthropologist brothers in the high Xingu in 1964, who taught him Portuguese – as they did Raoni 10 years earlier. Since then, the father of nine, has been at his uncle’s side in their fights for the Kayapo people, learning from Raoni every step of the way.
His daughter Mayalu is the founder of the youth movement Mebengoke, an activist movement, protecting the Kapot Nhinore territory.
Megaron voiced concern for both he and Raoni on the Belo Monte Dam’s impact for the future of Native Amazonian populations, “I see it as very difficult, the fight to defend our rights is hard. But we will continue to fight, for the preservation of the indigenous people, for our forest, and for our land.”
Raoni and Megaron showed anxiety about the lack of respect regarding the rights of Amazonian Natives, showing the absence of demarcation of their lands on the map, and their project for a new village, strategically meant to defend the access of their territories, and protect them from the intrusion of non-Indians.
Raoni has been to Paris two other times, once in 1989 to meet with thee late French President François Mitterrand, and in 2011 for a meeting with Jacques Chirac on his nomination as Citizen of Honor. This time around it was with the Ngo “Urgence Amazonie,” to call the governments’ attention to the emergency of the threat to their survival, and the need to stop deforestation.
Indian Country Today Media Network was able to speak with Raoni during his final visit.
What is the greatest emergency related to your territory, and the Native populations of Amazonia?
I am here today to talk about this. The most urgent is the respect from the whites for the Native people: for their land, their rivers, their forest, their way of life, their traditions. Because my people are growing, so we need this respect from the whites; our land is my priority, and stopping the construction of the dam. Also, the demarcation of the indigenous lands, which is not completed. Because the danger, of this lack of demarcation, for us, is the risk of an invasion from the whites, and its consequences: the destruction of the woods, the fish, all the animals…It is very dangerous!
Which countries helped you during this campaign, and could you specify the goal of this new village you are starting to set up?
Japan, Canada, United States, France, Holland, Norway, Switzerland, and Germany, have been helping us, and sponsoring our actions.
So I started to ask the organizations who work with us, if they could help us financially to budget this village; and it is now programmed for next year: we will start creating this village, which is strategically planned to block the entrance on our territory, and protect us from the invasion of non-Natives. Also, to protect the part of our land where the tomb of our grandfather is located.
You showed us a documentary, about the violence against Native people, in your area: what is the treatment of Natives in Brazil?
There is a lot of violence, especially in some areas, and conflicts with the whites; which continues, since a long time… The sequence we showed you with the police, happened among the Guaranis, in the state of Para. Many commit suicide, because of land issues, and the loss of their lands. There is no dialogue with the Natives in Brazil.
Is this trip really the last one outside of Brazil, as you announced?
Yes, coming here is too far; I will remain in Brazil, to work there, because I am now very tired.
Are you satisfied with your last trip, what is your feeling about the work you have done until now?
Well… Today, here, I do not like the cold! But traveling with Sting was great, doing all that work, and now working on the demarcation. Since our fight with the assistance of Sting, we achieved a lot, and received a lot of help from the people, everywhere.
Is the issue of acculturation among the youth significant, in your communities?
Yes… And I am very preoccupied with the youth, as many do not want to learn the traditional ways. In my childhood, it was not like that: we had to learn the traditional lessons, with the people who knew. But our youth is losing that, today.