This is how you greet someone in my family’s indigenous language, Krenák

I know it may sound strange to you, that’s just one of our many differences. We are very different. The differences in our identity stem from the differences in our experiences.

In fact, most of what shapes a person is relative. For instance, have you ever heard that the concept of home is debatable? When I say that, I don’t mean that my house is physically different than yours. What I mean is that one’s understanding of home — as the land where you return to — might not be the same as mine. My home is where my ancestors fought to survive after years of colonization and cultural genocide. To some extent, that is part of our culture now: to fight and to be ready to fight at any time, since the marginalization of our existence is still a problem. No one acknowledges our existence, and when they do, it is purely based on their interest over something that belongs to us such as our territory, our skills — already appropriated by some — and, as I’ll talk more about later, our natural resources. The culture of indigenous groups only remained alive because of the familiarity they had with the land they were living on and the culture that they were sharing. Our sense of home is closely related to the land where our ancestors’ blood was shed by intruders during the 16th century – and still is.

Because of the international interest in Brazilian natural resources, I have seen the Krenák people, the indigenous group to which I belong, alongside with the Pataxó Hãhãhãe, Xacriabá, and others being forced to move away from their villages and houses in order to give space to enormous mining investments. Extractivist capitalism has been the chosen way for Brazilian economic growth for several years now, considering its late industrialization and its large amount of natural resources. What’s ignored in this process is the social cost for that economic development. By focusing on the extraction and exportation of minerals, the companies and the government tend to ignore the social issues that show up. And, unfortunately for us, the affected ones, that is how global capitalism works. 

Created in 1942 and privatized in 1997, Vale S.A is the biggest mining company of Brazil. By affiliating itself with other companies around the world such as Kinross Gold — a Canadian multinational company accused of Human Rights’ violation by NGO’s in Brazil — and BHP Billinton, an Australian company, Vale S.A is on the path of becoming the world’s biggest mining corporation. However, for me, this title doesn’t have any significance. What matters is that in 2019, the Krenák community lives its fourth year with no access to clean water, fishing, and – most important of all – the land they grew up on. All of that because in 2015, Vale S.A, operating together with BHP Billinton, released a massive amount of mine waste in the city of Mariana. It contaminated the Rio Doce (which, in a loose translation from Portuguese, means Sweet River), also known in my indigenous language as Rio Watu, from its source to its mouth, crossing two state borders and destroying everything in between. This incident came to be the biggest environmental catastrophe of Brazil, causing 19 deaths and the loss of several endemic species, mainly fish that could only spawn in that region of the river. For the Krenák people, this was a huge and dramatic turn to their lives. The river that provided most of the food and water consumed by the community was now dead. International organizations, such as Greenpeace and WWF, classified the catastrophe’s effects on the indigenous group as the continuation of the genocidal project implemented in Brazil 500 years ago, which caused the local culture to neglect non-westernized populations to this day. At the beginning of 2019, a similar incident happened in the city of Brumadinho, proving that the first instance was not shocking enough for the responsible authorities to be accountable and prevent it from happening again.

The way native groups see and understand their homes is different. Because of that, the debate around the revitalization of the river – stopping mining activities in developing countries which attract international companies because of their weak legislation on the environmental area, and respecting the gift of living in such a rich country in natural resources – is even more sensitive to us. Considering the number of indigenous groups spread all over the country and the dangers of the extractivist capitalist system, as the damages made by the mining in Mariana and Brumadinho showed us, it is hard to listen quietly to speeches of the Brazilian president Jair Messias Bolsonaro. At the beginning of November, Bolsonaro declared his interest in legalizing the extractions of coal and gold from indigenous reservations before the end of his term. It is already hard for traditional groups to survive in the country, and now we are facing a government that wants to make it even harder.

Gradually they are killing us. Even though colonization finished when Brazil became independent, it is impossible to ignore the fact that our blood is still being shed and our community is still being destroyed. That is what modern capitalism aims for. By targeting minority groups, enriching themselves.

Antônio Silva

About Antônio Silva