CAFOD campaigner and volunteer, Julie Cox, shares her passionate solidarity with the Yanomami indigenous community in Brazil and how, after meeting Davi and Dario Kopenawa (leaders of the Yanomami community) when they visited CAFOD in February 2020, she has been inspired take on a personal pilgrimage and challenge to fundraise, raise awareness and share the story of this incredible community.
The Terrible Plight of the Yanomami Community in Brazil
Let us take time to stop and breathe a moment…and when you’re ready to reflect:
Welcome to one of the most diverse forests on the planet – envisage the river, the lush foliage, all the sounds, colours, feel the humidity, see the Yanomami living in harmony with their land, the river, the wildlife. Take as long as you like.
Let us now awake and consider reality: let’s look at what is actually happening to our earth family members in the Yanomami indigenous community in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. They are exposed to severe threats of our making – our consumerist lifestyles fuelling much of what is going on there.
Time is running out for the largest indigenous community of Amazonia, numbering 27,000 people, whose ancestral homeland covers over 200 villages in an area of 2.3 million acres on the Brazilian-Venezuelan border. The Yanomami are true custodians of their Amazon rainforest reservation. But their future and the future of the magnificent rainforest now hang on a knife-edge.
Both the elders, the Yanomami shamans, the ones with traditional knowledge of medicinal uses of plants etc. and the youngest are most at risk and tragically succumbing to the new Corona virus epidemic. Rachel Bunyan for Mailonline, 20 November 2020, publicised figures from a report compiled by Yanomami leaders: “Confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the reservation have risen some 260% between August and October – from 335-1,202 cases. So far, there have been 23 confirmed deaths.” An estimated 10,000 have been exposed, as it is impossible for the Yanomami community to self-isolate. They have confined themselves to their individual village compounds, having gone deeper into the forest but the disease is spreading.
In addition malarial cases are rising and contributing further, particularly to child-deaths.
Medical support including provision of ventilators is non-existent for such marginalised communities – chloroquine which can treat malaria and Covid to some degree, has not been distributed and the Brazilian Government is not doing anything.
No food is available at medical points and this situation causes further spread of the virus.
Mercury poisoning is on the increase due to the proliferation of gold mining activities.
Why we are implicated in these tragic circumstances
We create the demand which encourages corrupt multi nationals and governments to plunder the earth, unhindered. The price of gold has sky-rocketed and there are now 200,000 illegal gold miners in the Yanomami territory –another gold-rush is on, with planes, boats, barges transporting tons of equipment, taking advantage of President Bolsonaro’s complicity.
Mines are scarring previously pristine rainforest which has taken thousands of years to develop.
The miners are infiltrating, drinking strong alcohol and forcefully having their way with Yanomami women, so clearly this is exacerbating Covid-19 spread.
The loss of elders is tragic for the future of the Yanomami. Their oral tradition means that their knowledge dies with them. Since previous malaria epidemics, the loss of elders has weakened the resilience of the indigenous community as a whole.
Gold mining pollutes river water and the land. The life-span of the Yanomami people is being further diminished as a result through mercury poisoning. Also, we can ascertain what this is doing to the food chain – poisons being transferred and concentrated upward towards the top predators like the Jaguar.
Scientists have shown that due to our demand for timber, beef and soya (feed for our livestock and poultry to support our meat industry including the UK), the Amazon biome is reaching a tipping point beyond which it will convert to drier savanna vegetation – this will have a massive impact on global weather patterns since evapotranspiration from the tropical Amazon rainforest canopy generates rainfall as far away as Texas, in the key agricultural area of Midwest US. (R S Butler, 2020) This means production will suffer, which will have a knock on effect to our food imports.
How can we stop this disaster unfolding?
Let us remind ourselves,
“Nature is filled with the words of love.” Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ para 225
We all like to think we love nature – and we do, if we take time to appreciate it in our local surroundings and learn from our mother earth and become aware of global connectivity. Lessening our impact and living gently upon the earth is our natural and authentically loving response. This involves a certain amount of sacrifice.
If you would like to support the Yanomami as they fight for their lives – please sign their ‘Miners out Covid out’ campaign: www.MinersOutCovidOut.org/
Please watch the video The Shaman’s Message
My Amazon Pilgrimage
My challenge is to cover the 6,400 Km distance of the R. Amazon by 2027, through combined country-walking and swimming. I’m considering open-water swimming as leisure centres/pools are still closed. In addition I’m raising funds from crafting hats, headbands and scarfs.
Please be assured that all your donations will go directly to the Hutukara Yanomami Association, led by Davi Kopenawa, himself. CAFOD will send the initial target sum as soon as it’s raised. Fundraising will continue for the duration of my virtual pilgrimage challenge of the length of the Amazon. I very much hope to encourage others to begin their own fund-raising initiatives – our Earth cries out as do the Best Keepers of the Earth, our indigenous peoples of the rainforest.
Let’s take time to hear the cry of the Yanomami, of future generations and that of the Earth. Lets, together, do whatever we can in order to help ensure their future survival.
My sincere thanks to all supporters. We can make a difference, together with CAFOD’s fantastic encouragement and outreach support.