‘We are the resistance’: The indigenous communities in the path of the Amazonian wildfires


They describe the Amazon rainforest as “their mother.”

The indigenous people who live in this unique habitat number around a million but are split between hundreds of different groups.

Some live primitively in the forest and shun the outside world, but we were invited into one community by a guy in Nike shorts and a smart phone that doubled as his mobile office.

Mathias’ family live near the frontier town of Lábrea which sits right at the end of the Trans Amazonian highway in northern Brazil.

In his tiny village they have watched the fires get incredibly close – this dry season he says has been the worst he can remember – the arsonists keep setting fires – patches of the land around them keep being reduced to a charred emptiness.

All of the fires are illegal at this time of year but they are designed to clear the dense rainforest to enable the land to be used for cattle grazing or soy production.

The indigenous people here aren’t just caught in the middle of a land grab. They believe they are also being actively targeted by the arsonists.

On the veranda of his wooden house overlooking a simple football pitch and the rainforest beyond, Matias told us: “It is very sad.

“Our ancestors have fought for this land for so long.

“It is part of us, it is our mother.”

Every time they see a new fire near their land they run and try to put it out themselves.

It’s prompted them to organise a special gathering this week in Lábrea where different groups have sat down to discuss their collective response.

“We know that this is a criminal fire,” Matias said.

“They don’t like us because we are the village that criticised them the most, and we are in a fight.

“We see ourselves as the resistance.”

In the next settlement we were again invited into the village.

The chief, Raimundo Nonato Apurina, showed us how the flames had recently come within 100 metres of their homes.

“It’s dead,” he told me as we walked through the charred vegetation – the crops they grow here – pineapple, cashew and vegetables on neat raised beds – are under real threat along with their very existence in this land.

“The intention of this fire was to get rid of us. To leave us without resources and food to the point we will have leave our land and go to the city.

“There we will suffer, we will starve,” the chief told me.

Indigenous people have long been marginalised by mainstream Brazilian society but some of the current president’s policies mean they feel targeted like never before.

Their lands are under threat and that means their traditions, livelihoods and children’s futures are all in the balance.

Different groups want different things but pretty much all of them just want the space to be able to live in the rainforest.

It’s ecosystem is part of their identity – to lose the forest is to lose one of the defining parts of their identity.

They won’t give it up without standing their ground.