For the Arara and tens of thousands of other indigenous people of the area, the construction of Belo Monte dam is an existential threat. Rising water is displacing them from ancestral lands, covering vast areas of forest, taking away sources of food, irrevocably submerging a fundamental part of their indigenous cultural and spiritual identity. With displacement come further uncertainties and risks such as human trafficking. And while their lives are being drastically impacted, the tribes have never been properly consulted, nor gave their free prior informed consent to the development that is uprooting them.
This story repeats itself across the Amazon region, with uncountable cases of illegal infringement on indigenous lands and continuous indigenous rights violations. The recent presidential elections in Brazil mean swathes of protected tribal territories are under further threat of being opened up for even more exploitation by commercial agriculture and mining. The previously shelved plans for other dams across the Amazon basin are likely being revived.
Yet there exists a vast network of indigenous resistance built on a legacy of a generations-long struggle against the environmental destruction and colonisation, supported by a global solidarity coalition with organisations such as Amazon Frontlines, Witness, Greenpeace and Amazon Watch standing up for indigenous rights and providing support, advocacy, legal aid and amplifying their frontline voices.
The Belo Monte dam, however massive, is just a small piece in the larger story of development, destruction and displacement playing out across the Amazon basin. But this is also a global story, affecting all of us. Amazon deforestation releases huge amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere majorly contributing to global emissions, meaning that stopping the destruction of the Amazon forest is critical to prevent catastrophic climate change.
But all of us are also able to do something about it. The massive infrastructure projects enabling deforestation - dams, roads, pipelines - would not be possible without the financial backing brought in by large international banks and corporations. Existing divestment campaigns are in place to taking aim at those institutions to push them to divest from projects driving the Amazon destruction: Bank Track with an extensive Banks and Forest campaign, or Amazon Watch, taking on the world's largest asset management company.
It is now widely recognised that indigenous people play a vital role in preserving their forest environments. This can only be done by maintaining their rights to the conserved territory, upholding indigenous sovereignty and ensuring preservation of traditional ecological knowledge.
Globally, we need to stand in solidarity and allyship with the indigenous peoples, acknowledging the vital voice of indigenous people in the long term vision for climate justice, and following their lead for action.
With the rapidly shifting political landscape in Brazil, there are increasing calls for governments to impose sanctions and encourage boycott of commodities and products linked to Amazon destruction. With the new president in power the need for international boycotts is seen as the main threat to the plans to ramp up agricultural production and the resulting clear cutting.