“Where indian lands begin is where deforestation ends”
—Steve Schwartzman, Environmental Defense Fund
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
The above image was taken in July 2018 as our bush plane soared into Kayapó Territory. The abrupt change in landscape from sprawling Brazilian farmland to the Kayapó's 11 million hectares of primary forests never feels less than startling. Today, the borders of the Kayapó's ancestral land are clearly delineated by deforestation from cattle grazing, soybean farming, and a growing presence of illegal gold mines spreading along the border like a persistent cancer.
To date, no other group nor organization has been as successful as the Kayapó in the preservation of some of the world's last remaining areas of tropical forest. But the Kayapó's decades long battle for control of their legally protected land continues to face unprecedented challenges as changes in Brazilian leadership threaten to embolden the legal and illegal extractive forces that lie in wait at their borders.
At a time when climate change and global biodiversity loss are rapidly accelerating, indigenous land stewardship stands as one of humanity's final lines of defense.