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Brazil’s indigenous leader wins top environmental award | Environmental News

Alessandra Korap is one of six recipients of the 2023 Goldman Sachs Environmental Prize for Grassroots Activism.

When Alessandra Korap was born in the mid-1980s, her indigenous village, nestled in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, was a haven of isolation. But as she grew up, the nearby city of Itaituba, with its bustling streets and businesses, grew closer.

It wasn’t just her village that felt the encroachment of non-Indigenous outsiders. Two major federal highways have paved the way for tens of thousands of settlers, illegal gold miners and loggers to enter the region’s vast indigenous territory, which covers an area of ​​forest roughly the size of Belgium.

The influx poses a serious threat to the Munduruku people of Korap, who number 14,000 across the Tapajos River Basin in the Brazilian states of Para and Mato Grosso.

Soon, illegal mining, hydroelectric dams, major railroads and an inland port for exporting soybeans were crowding out their lands — lands they are still struggling to recognize.

Korap and other Munduruku women took responsibility for the defense of their people, overturning the traditionally all-male leadership. They organized in their communities, planned demonstrations, and provided evidence of environmental crimes to Brazil’s attorney general and federal police.

They strongly oppose the illegal agreements and incentives offered to the Munduruku people by unscrupulous miners, loggers, corporations and politicians to acquire their land.

Colap’s defense of his ancestral domain won a Goldman environmental award on Monday. The award recognizes grassroots activists around the world working to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.

Alessandra Korap, winner of the 2023 Goldman Sachs Environmental Prize, leans her hand on a glass panel and looks out a hotel window.
Korap Receives Goldman Sachs Environmental Award in San Francisco, CA for His Work in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest [Eric Risberg/AP Photo]

“This award is an opportunity to draw attention to the territorial division of Sawre Muybu,” Colap told the Associated Press. “That is our top priority, along with driving out illegal miners.”

Sawre Muybu is a pristine rainforest covering 178,000 hectares (440,000 acres) along the Tapajos River. Official recognition of the land, or demarcation, began in 2007 but was frozen during the end of Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right presidency in January.

Still, the Munduruku people celebrated a victory in 2021, when British mining company Anglo American abandoned attempts to mine in Brazil’s indigenous territories, including Sawre Muybu.

Indigenous-controlled forests are the best preserved in the Brazilian Amazon, research shows.

Almost half of Brazil’s climate pollution comes from deforestation. Now, the damage is so great that the eastern Amazon, not far from Munduruku, is no longer a carbon sink—a net absorber of the gas.

Instead, it’s now a carbon source, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Nature.

The group files down into a muddy, deforested Amazon rainforest.
Members of the indigenous Munduruku community work to drive illegal gold miners off their land, January 2017 [File: Fabiano Maisonnave/AP Photo]

However, Korap knows that land rights alone do not protect the land.

In the neighboring Munduruku Aboriginal territory, illegal miners have damaged and polluted hundreds of kilometers of waterways in search of gold, even though it was officially recognized in 2004.

Now, Brazil’s new government has created the country’s first Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and recently launched a campaign to drive out miners.

But Colap remains skeptical of incumbent President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

She sees his actions as contradictory, pointing out that while he advocates for forest protection, he also negotiates trade agreements with other countries to sell more of the country’s main exports — beef and soybeans — which are a source of deforestation in Brazil. main driving force.

“When Lula travels abroad, he sits with the rich, not the defenders of the forest. A ministry is useless if the government negotiates our land without acknowledging that we are here,” she said. explain.

This year’s other Goldman Sachs Environmental Prize recipients are:

  • Tero Mustonen, a university professor and environmental activist from Finland who led the purchase of peatlands damaged by state-sponsored industrial activity.
  • Delima Silalahi, a Batak woman from North Sumatra, Indonesia, organizes indigenous communities across the country and advocates for their rights to traditional forests.
  • Zambian community organizer Chilekwa Mumba has fought and won compensation in the UK Supreme Court for residents harmed by copper mining.
  • Turkey’s Zafer Kizilkaya is a marine conservationist and conservation photographer who established Turkey’s first community-managed marine protected area in the Mediterranean.
  • US shrimp boat captain Diane Wilson has won a landmark legal battle with petrochemical giant Formosa Plastics on the Texas Gulf Coast over the discharge of plastic waste.

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