What the Amazon Fires Mean

By Mauragh Scott.

On the week beginning the 19th of August, international media was ignited with the news that the Amazon rainforest was on fire. Smoke from these fires caused the skies of Sao Paulo, 3000km away from the source of the fire, to darken. This story, one of the many which came out of these fires, sparked international shock and an outcry about the extremity of this fire along with raising questions on local and international consequences. This article will first focus on the local impacts of these fires and will then discuss why indigenous land rights are fundamental to saving the Amazon rainforest.

Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk

The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world, covering large parts of South America but mainly the country of Brazil. Despite it being concentrated in Brazil, the destructive consequences of these fires affect other South American countries and subsequently, their indigenous communities too. While it is impossible to determine what exactly started the fires, the continued deforestation of the Amazon rainforest plays a large part of it. To make matters worse, no legislation aimed at either preventing, or at least regulating, the burning of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has been passed; thus, it raises further worries of future long-term destruction of the rainforest that is in excess of what is happening now. Moreover, Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, has not spoken up against the mass deforestation. A BBC article explains that the ill-treatment is more likely to come from smaller corporations, unlike the larger ones that sell beef and soy, although the big corporations “are not innocent, but are better informed.”

However, all of this is not to say that fires are uncommon in the Amazon. The dry season of South America is fittingly called ‘Fire season,’ and even indigenous communities use fire as part of their way of living. However, this year’s fires are more extreme than they have ever been. For instance, it has been reported that this year there have been three times the amount of fires as there were in the previous 12 months. This increase in fires has led to more serious consequences, especially for the indigenous community, which is now living in amongst the fire.

These fires have deeply affected the indigenous people of Brazil in many ways. It was reported that in just one of the weeks the Amazon fires were burning, 68 of these fires were in indigenous lands and conservations. At the heart of this is the fight for indigenous land rights. Land, to indigenous people, is much more than economic or resource assets; it is a huge part of their culture, way of life, and their spiritual beliefs. There are mixed reports of how many indigenous tribes there are in the Brazilian Amazon. Survival International, (a human rights organisations that campaigns for indigenous land rights) lists that there are 305. However, not all tribes live in Brazil, and other have settled in Amazon regions of South America. To these communities, these fires embody the very real struggle for who controls their land and the devastating effects of the misuse of the latter.

President Bolsonaro has been very clear in his views that indigenous people do not need land rights with one of his campaign promises being to end any demarcation (the government reattributing land the indigenous people to live on) in Brazil. This colonial narrative within the Brazilian Government pushes the idea that indigenous communities need to ‘develop’ like the rest of the population and has consequently led the government to exchange what would be indigenous land for profit. Stealing this land from indigenous communities is one of the initial steps in the process of mass deforestation that takes place in the Amazon rainforest. This is precisely why it is important to protect indigenous land rights. Environmentalists across the globe believe that demarcation is the only way to protect the Amazon. The indigenous communities of the Brazilian Amazon having their land taken away fundamentally bases the survival of Amazon rainforest on a battle over autonomy. This battle is not going to be won by either side soon. In the meantime, Bolsonaro’s stance on land rights doesn’t just negatively impact indigenous cultures but the worlds ecosystem as well.

Indigenous people and their allies will continue to defend their land. They will continue to fight against the Brazilian government which is the root cause for these fires which are destroying indigenous community’s way of life. The fires destroy the animals they hunt, the medicine they use, the plants they eat, and the earth they stand on. Therefore, as a global community, we should do our best in protecting these indigenous communities who care for the rainforest like no one else. This noble fight is more than just about indigenous rights but the whole world’s ecosystem.

As many environmentalists rightly argue, the Amazon cannot be recovered once it is gone. These fires are still ablaze – two whole months after we first heard of them. Therefore, we must campaign and fight against this mass deforestation.

You can donate to these charities who work on protecting the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous communities:

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