Brazil had quite a number of experiences that touched our hearts as a parliament but the one that stood out the most was our visit to the indigenous community; The Sanctuary of the Shaman (Santuário dos Pajés).
Nothing prepared us for this visit, leaving the sheltered world of the city centre, we arrived at an apartment complex on the outskirts of Brasilia. Each and every one of us were stunned to our core by the advancement of real estate that was infringing on their sacred lands. On one side of the road there were condominiums and on the other was the entrance to an indigenous community. Despite our contradicting surroundings, we made our way down a track and into the community. Although apartments and construction were on the outskirts, the further we walked the more we felt peace, disconnect from the world and one with nature.
Joyous welcomes greeted us as they shared their stories, their struggles and their victories. As indigenous people of Brazil their lives and resources are constantly threatened by the Brazilian government, as development appears to trump their rights and needs. Despite their battle, however, they were able to celebrate life on every spectrum with us and teach us the meaning of nature. From standing barefooted and feeling the earth, to singing and clapping blissfully, to planting trees for mother earth we were on a life changing journey.
As we looked around we saw structures made from the earth, handmade crafts done by children and a simple yet fruitful way of life. Although there was plenty joy we could not ignore the sorrow, suffering and injustice that this community and many other indigenous communities face. This led our tears, our hearts were swollen with compassion and empathy. We saw that was once water-rich lands with flourishing springs were now completely dry, filled with tractor marks and sewage tanks.
We met 19-year-old Fexta, the bravest 19-year old I have ever met. He openly shared with us an event that occurred during the night as his family was resting. There were loud noises and activity on their land so he investigated. Upon his investigation, he discovered fully armed soldiers and a tractor. After informing them that they were on private property, he was physically moved by the tractor, his mother was held at gunpoint and the community’s lives were threatened simply because they were protecting what was theirs. Activists from across Brasilia and other indigenous communities came and stood in solidarity with them as they stood united protecting what was theirs.
This was pure cruelty and a battle that they are fighting daily. We learnt that their land is on an aquifer, but they no longer have free access to this as the government now fully controls it and cuts their supply whenever there are visitors. This 19-year-old boy is prepared to die fighting for his community’s rights a reality that he and many other environmentalists in Brazil face as the country has the highest number of land activists killed in the world. Despite the cards that this community has been dealt, they are optimistic that one day their springs can return, their families can peacefully live on the land and the importance of the natural environment will be recognised.
This community thought us the meaning of strength, gratitude, perseverance and determination. Each of us took turns sharing our stories and expressing our gratitude for their knowledge as our eyes were opened for the first time the hardship that they face which is a total contrast to our blessed and privileged lifestyle. This has never been our reality so we can only empathize and join the fight. It is not an easy road ahead but it is impossible to return to our everyday lives and turn a blind eye. Nature’s gifts are for all of us so it is imperative that we as WYPW strive for equity and equality for all.
Khadija is currently completing a master’s in water management at the University of London. She blogs about water and the environment at ecovybz.blog