Author Andreza Andrade
Guajajara indigenous peoples promote environmental and territorial management actions in the State of Maranhão
Focusing on sensitivity, solidarity and empathy, indigenous Guajajara women from the Caru Indigenous Land, located in the western region of the State of Maranhão, are taking part in environmental and territorial management actions in their ancestral lands. These women make up the Forest Warriors collective (“Guerreiras da Floresta”), which, since 2014, supports and promotes territorial protection actions alongside the Guardians of the Forest, in defense of indigenous cultures and territories.
Part of the mission of the Warriors of the Caru Indigenous Land is to protect 173 thousand hectares of demarcated indigenous lands. This territory also makes up “Mosaico Gurupi”, a set of protected areas that houses the biggest portion of the Amazon Forest in the State of Maranhão and, thus, constitutes an important environmental and cultural heritage for the whole region. However, all this socio-environmental wealth is constantly threatened by deforestation and illegal activities such as logging, hunting and fishing, carried out by non-indigenous trespassers.
The Guardians of the Forest, a group of indigenous men who actively defend the territory, have been fighting for territorial integrity on the Caru Indigenous Land for years. In their work, the Guardians roamed all of the Indigenous Land to identify illegal activities and report them to the competent bodies. With the advent of the Warriors, the fight has taken on new meanings as a result of the added view of indigenous women to the search for new strategies to defend the territory. In addition to strengthening the role of women in community decision-making spaces, the reflections made by the Warriors after the many patrolling expeditions executed alongside the Guardians showed that the actions should go beyond the borders of the indigenous territories, to reach the settlements around them, for only in this way could they better understand the reality of the trespassers and, ultimately, raise their awareness more effectively.
During their trips to the villages around TI Caru, the Warriors face many logistical and geographical challenges. Photo: Paulinha Guajajara
So, the Forest Warriors launched a plan for constant visits to the settlements surrounding the Caru Indigenous Land with the aim of promoting dialog and socio-educational awareness-raising campaigns. During those visits, the Warriors addressed the importance of the environmental conservation of the forest and ecosystem services that extend to indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Indigenous cultures are also introduced, as many people from those places do not know that the territory in question is an indigenous land demarcated and traditionally inhabited by native peoples. The Warriors also explain the actions of the Guardians of the Forest, to raise widespread awareness as a means of avoiding conflict. "We never know how they will receive us, but we must insist on this work, because we know how important it is to understand the situation in those settlements," says Marcilene Guajajara, leader and one of the founders of the collective.
It was because of these visits that the Warriors also realized the many difficulties experienced by those people in their daily lives and that this alone is capable of triggering invasions. "Public policies don't reach these people, they have settlements without any schools or health services, and the state of extreme social vulnerability of those families is very clear," says Maísa Guajajara, one of the leaders of the collective.
“Our territory is disrespected, they deplete everything on their side, then come over to our side so that they can feed their children," said Ms. Maria Guajajara. The Warriors understand the complexities surrounding the situation. While they need to protect the territory against invasions, they also understand that these people live in a state of utter abandonment. With every visit, the Warriors would return to their settlements asking how they could help improve the quality of life of those families.
The Project “Drawing New Paths for a Better Life”
The opportunity to help those settlements came about in November 2021, when the Forest Warriors, through the Wirazu association, entered into a partnership with the Society, Population and Nature Institute (ISPN) and the Philanthropy Network for Social Justice (RFJS) to implement the project "Drawing New Paths for a Better Life". The initiative aims to provide families or individuals within those settlements with a small credit facility through micro-projects, to develop productive initiatives such as gardens, crops and fruit plantations/backyards; reforestation/nurseries, and small-scale livestock farming. The initiative disburses an amount of 2,000 reais to each selected micro-project. So, the action is an important aid to help those communities develop their productive activities, while collaborating with environmental conservation and the livelihoods of their settlements and the indigenous territories.
The project started in January with a diagnostic activity, where the Warriors visited a number of settlements to talk about the initiative and determine the priority locations. "We saw their happiness when we talked about our project," said Rosilene Guajajara, another leader associated with the collective. Between February and March, the Warriors along with the ISPN technical team drew up a micro-project notice specific to the action and presented it on location to the population of those settlements. 42 proposals have been received and will be reviewed in the coming weeks. After the selection is made, the funds will be transferred directly into the bank accounts of the families whose projects are approved. At the end of the initiative, the beneficiaries will submit an activity report. Each micro-project will be followed and monitored by the Forest Warriors themselves, in partnership with the ISPN technical team.
The initiative is being followed by a team of indigenous communicators from the Caru Indigenous Land, who are recording every step in the form of pictures and film. The idea is that at the end of the project, the whole story of the indigenous women’s leading role in the development of this project will be told in a documentary reflecting the process from their indigenous perspectives and voices. The project is also producing two video animations about the micro-projects, to be used as teaching materials and to help others understand how to submit proposals and manage them.
Respectively: filling in the form for microprojects in the village of São Pedro. Photo: Caroline Yoshida/ISPN and presentation of the public notice in the village of Escada. Photo: Caroline Yoshida/ISPN
The Superintendent Director of the ISPN, Cristiane Azevedo, believes that the project is one of many different innovative approaches taken by indigenous men and women to look after their territories in this part of the Amazon in the State of Maranhão. "We are delighted to support this initiative led by the Forest Warriors. The project is part of the relevant environmental and territorial management strategies, led by female collectives and groups of
Guardians of the Forest within the “Mosaico Gurupi” region," she noted.
Guerreiras da Floresta and ISPN team during the presentation of the public notice for microprojects in the village of Escada. Photo: Paulinha Guajajara
Rosilene Guajajara recognizes that the implementation of such an initiative faces a number of challenges. Above all, indigenous and non-indigenous people think very differently. "We think collectively and they think individually. I can see that the suffering that they experience is due to a lack of organization, because they have no community ties, so we talk about the importance of getting organized to strengthen their community, for only then will they be able to achieve anything," she said. Chief Antonio Wilson Guajajara, of the Maçaranduba tribe (Caru Indigenous Land), is a supporter and activist of the initiative. He believes that the project, albeit small, will bring excellent results. "This initiative is a first in Maranhão, since it is the first time that an indigenous people has given such an opportunity to a non-indigenous people, so this project will raise hope that the forest will survive and that these caraiu (non-indigenous) people can have better living conditions," he affirmed.
Andreza Andrade is a member of the indigenous community of Baré do Alto Rio Negro in the State of Amazonas, and a journalist and communications advisor to the Society, Population and Nature Institute (Instituto Sociedade, População e Natureza – ISPN).