A Born Activist

Words by Samela Sateré Mawé

Translated by Le Guimarães

Photography by Nathalie Brasil

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This article is part of Issue #12

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Environmental activist Samela Sateré Mawé, from the Sateré Mawé people in the state of Amazonas, is showing how Indigenous youth in Brazil are taking control of their own narrative and using contemporary weapons in the fight to defend their territories.

Our generation shares many singularities, we have always heard and seen our grandmothers, mothers, our leaders, telling stories of the struggle of our people. Our ancestors walked and opened the same path that we are walking today.

During an interview at COP26 [the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference], the following question arose: “When did you decide to become an activist?” Thinking about the etymology of what non-Indigenous people conceptualise as ‘activism’, as a fight for a certain objective, and then looking for such a unique moment within my own short life story, I expressed, “I think we were born activists!”

The fight of the Indigenous movement has been ongoing since the invasion - an invasion which has decimated villages, people and languages. It’s a fight for territory, differentiated education, differentiated health and for our constitutional rights - we are always fighting.

This fight was once done with the use of force, with bows and arrows, harpoons and blowpipes, as these were the only ways for us to be heard. Nowadays this struggle has gained new tools. Indigenous youth are protagonists in the fight with contemporary weapons - technology allied to the defence of the territory, with the blessing of the elders and the support from the leaders. Drones fly over Indigenous lands and look for outbreaks of fires or invasions, and cameras denounce the attacks, violence and violations that affect the people. Mobile phones share the richness of our cultures and the diversity of our peoples, deconstructing, demystifying, decolonising and simplifying the Indigenous agenda on social networks.

We are using the internet and technology as a tool of struggle and resistance in the defence of our people, bodies and territories, occupying the screens and demarcating the networks, because, for a long time, we have had other people speaking for us. “What do the Indigenous eat, where do they live, how do they survive, why do they do this or that?” This is always the point of view of non-Indigenous people about us - increasing and sharing stereotypes and fetishes regarding our bodies. Now we have the opportunity to be protagonists of our own stories, to tell them from our own point of view.

The big media organisations are also not faithful to our narrative. Often when quoting us, they end up sharing colonising narratives and using terms that do not represent us. Pejorative terms such as “tribes” and “Indians” - the same terms that we deconstruct in our work, dissertations, theses, articles and social networks.

In this particular period, we have had a great challenge. Our people have never been so threatened and our territories have never been so violated since the invasion. The government’s genocidal speech [the 2019-2022 administration] encouraged the invasion of our territories, endangering our lives as well as the lives of our biomes.

There are several bills in the National Congress, such as PL490, which would enforce the cut-off date in which Indigenous people can claim their lands as the date of the constitution of Brazil - 5 October 1988 - a contradictory and unconstitutional bill. Bill 2633 facilitates the process of land grabbing – the invasion of Indigenous lands and conservation areas - causing deforestation and fires. Bill 191 seeks to regulate the mining process in Indigenous lands - a process that leads to diseases, deaths, opens wounds and the dumping of mercury into our rivers, contaminating the biome and our people. All these threats were widely disseminated and denounced by our youth and Indigenous leaders, who work in media collectives, such as Mídia Índia, and the Indigenous organisations themselves that use the internet and social media, such as the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB).

We have great challenges, but it is necessary to have strength and resistance in the face of the actions that take place in our territories. We need to appropriate these tools in defence, so that there is no more Indigenous bloodshed in the fight for life.

‘Now we have the opportunity to be protagonists of our own stories, to tell them from our own point of view.’

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Words by

Samela Sateré Mawé

Samela Sateré Mawé is of the Sateré Mawé people, living in the state of Amazonas, Brazil. She is a biology student, an environmental activist for F… Learn more

Translated by

Le Guimarães

Le Guimarães is a Brazilian artist, researcher and educator. Graduating in Communication and Media, and Design with a master’s in Fine Arts, she ha… Learn more

Photography by

Nathalie Brasil

Nathalie Brasil is a photojournalist who’s worked in newsrooms and conducted photo essays focusing on women subjects - Indigenous women, entreprene… Learn more

This article is part of Issue #12

Cover of  Issue #12
Cosmology Indigenous Art Resistance

In this special edition of WtLF we invited Indigenous activist Txai Suruí, of the Paiter Suruí people, to guest edit the entirety of issue #12. The…

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