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We are the Earth: a letter from Indigenous leaders

A cream background with text in black that says 'We are earth' all in capital letters
20 Apr 2022
3 min read

This letter, entitled We are the Earth was written by Indigenous activists from Brazil, Sônia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá, in collaboration with Earthrise and is a part of our latest exhibition, Our Time on Earth.

We are the Earth. We arise from the Earth and we return to it. The Earth is within us. The Earth is our sister, our daughter, our aunt, our mother, our grandmother. The earth is our womb, our food, our cure. The power of our chants connects us to the charms of our ancestors. We are the ones who – through our hearts – hear the cry of the Earth. In the echo of this cry, the daughters and sons of the Earth cry too. We are the ones who no longer wish to remain deaf. Nor in silence. We have seen daughters and sons die at the hands of the colonisers. We cry with the fire that burned Galdino; with the cowardice that stoned the baby breastfeeding its mother. With the genocide – of the black body, of Indigenous peoples. We are the seed, the root, the forest, the rivers, the woods, the animals, the cosmos. Our chanting is ancestral. We never sing alone. We are relatives. The collective inhabits us. 

We build – and are built – on webs that link us to both the future and the past with the same intensity. We are territory, tradition and knowledge. We are the matriarchal force that teaches and welcomes. The land is our essence; the source of life and existence. Who are we? We are the original peoples. We sprout from the ashes of burnt trunks. Even when pruned, we know how to regrow. For five hundred years we have resisted the commodification of life, and those who want to tear our roots from our territory, to fracture our world, our common land. We have resisted all the fences that have deprived us of our territories. We have resisted the massacres, the invisibility to which we have been subjected, the attempts to exterminate our existence and annihilate our culture. Today the Earth once again calls our name. We are interpreters of its clamour.

There is still time to heal humanity and save the Earth. Therefore, we fight for another world to flourish. In the face of the crisis of capitalist civilisation – confronted with serious ecological, social, economic, health and political problems –it has never been so urgent to value the resistance of Indigenous peoples and their world views. Values based on relationships of belonging to nature, generosity, non-accumulation of goods, non-commercialisation of life and cultural resistance. We defend an ecology that denounces the unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, dependence on fossil fuels, and financialization as a mechanism for perpetuating inequalities and territorial domination. We criticise private appropriation of land, water, forest resources, biodiversity, genetic heritage and knowledge. 

We place ourselves as a militant force to choose our destinies; to strengthen the struggle for the preservation of our way of life; to self-determine our own rights: health and education and all dimensions that affect our well-being. We need to rethink calendars and schedules. The speed of our body, of our life, cannot be held hostage to a clock to which we all sacrifice ourselves: capitalist rationality. The current reality clearly demonstrates this. The environmental crisis is getting worse every day. The concentration of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere) increased by 2.57 parts per million (ppm) in 2020, reaching 4.14 ppm in December, the highest concentration ever recorded. The last six years have been the warmest since the late 19th century. As a result, the sea level and its temperature continue to rise. In the Arctic, the amount of sea ice is decreasing and the Antarctic is experiencing an accelerated thawing process. There is an increase in population displacement due to climate disasters. A new virus, bacteria or protozoan is discovered every four months. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) recognise pandemics as consequences of environmental crises. The coronavirus crisis has deepened the scenario of structural inequalities in Brazil. Proportionally, the pandemic was most lethal to Indigenous people, Black people and the poor, not only in Brazil but across the world.

In Brazil, deforestation and conversion of forests to intensive agriculture and cattle ranching are the main causes of carbon emissions. Brazil is home to 60% of the largest tropical forest in the world and the greatest biodiversity on the planet. However, in 2020, deforestation reached 11,088 km², more than three times the limit stipulated by law. It is estimated that deforestation has reached more than 20% of the Amazon, and that 40% of the forest is already under some human pressure. Here, some people still say: ‘there’s too much land for too few Indians’. While Indigenous peoples occupy 13% of Brazilian territory, the most privileged 1% own 46% of private lands. In 2019, the total deforested areas in the Amazon – the Cerrado, Caatinga, Atlantic Forest, Pantanal and Pampa – the six biomes in Brazil – amounted to 1,218,708 hectares throughout Brazil. 

Illegal deforestation is largely responsible for territorial conflicts in Brazil. For every tree felled, bodies are threatened: the chainsaw that cuts down trees suffocates the world’s breathing. Added to this dramatic social and environmental context are the new forms of control and surveillance of the State over the individual, aggravated by a digital society weakened by decades of neoliberalism. As a result, democratic and collective solutions are denied. Even in spite of this, Indigenous people are on the frontline of the battle to protect territories and nature. We, the native peoples, represent 5% of the world population. However, our way of life protects 82% of the world’s biodiversity. The earth is our collective home and our inner home. It is our breath and the heart that pulsates within us. If the earth becomes ill, humanity will end. The earth is the guardian of science, the oldest, wisest teacher. We Indigenous peoples continue to learn much more from the living tree than from dead paper. When we are asked if we are afraid to put our bodies forward to defend our mother earth, we answer: ‘what we are afraid of is the social numbness that normalizes the innumerable attacks on territories’. The land has children, it has families, it has caretakers. The land has a voice.

For this reason, we invite humanity to join forces in this collective task of making a commitment to heal the land. There is still time. Fighting for the demarcation of Indigenous territories is the way to guarantee life and breath of all humanity. There is time to reforest our minds. To promote a broad engagement against the expropriation of our territories and our peoples. A revolution in the way we live and understand the world; a revolution from the perspective of the Indigenous mother who resists, cares, heals and protects us. Reforesting minds is a life plan: through reforesting our thoughts and decolonising the land, we hold the possibility of healing the colonial traumas within the landscape of our bodies. Our struggle is not only to reforest: our struggle is mainly stop deforestation. Our struggle is not only to heal: our struggle is mainly to not get sick. Reforesting minds is a profound cry for a new relationship with nature. Founded in Indigenous cosmovisions, that drink in the complexity of the interactions between all that is alive, it manifests itself from our ancestry. Smīkra Wahikwa, ‘The future is ancestral’, as we say in the Xakriabá language. To save the old is to save the new. You cannot cure evil if you insist on the innocuous remedy. There is no other way to save the forests, the voice of the Indigenous songs, Indigenous life itself, if not by the force of the fight. Who are we? We are the cure, the active principle, the air that saves you. We are daughters and sons of ancestors who taught us ‘that the limit of a land is in our consciousness’. When we learn from the land, it is a book that never ends. Hail our original peoples. The lungs of the world are Indigenous.

About the writers

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