I have been very fortunate to have visited much of Brazil. In 1989, my first trip was in solidarity with the Kayapo people of the Para Region. Their villages and homes were threatened by the construction of a massive dam on the Xingu River. The Xingu is a tributary to the Amazon. The dam, to be built in Altamira, a city far from their homes, was supported by the World Bank.
Working with a team of volunteers, led by David Suzuki and his wife Tara Cullis, we raised $80,000 to support the largest Pan-Amazonian gathering of tribes in history. That fundraising success was largely thanks to Gordon Lightfoot donating his time and enormous talent for concerts in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.
Having raised the money, we decided to attend in solidarity with the efforts of Paiakan and the Indigenous peoples. That effort led to the World Bank rejecting the funding for the dam. It was a huge victory, but decades later the dam went ahead without World Bank support.
The experiences connected me with a Harvard University-based group called Cultural Survival. Its goal was to ensure that Indigenous cultures were not lost through colonization and exploitation. They asked me to help establish a Canadian wing of the group, working with Indigenous peoples around the world and in Canada. The commitment to Indigenous self-government and self-determination became key in my life.
It also led to two more visits to the Amazon, helping to source ethically harvested rainforest products to benefit indigenous and local people.
For Brazilians in major cities of the south, visiting the Amazon is as rare as it is for Canadians in Toronto or Vancouver to visit our Arctic. Bother are enormous territories critical to the Earth’s climate. And both are imperilled by the climate crisis.
And this year, both have been on fire.
Brazil also played a key role in global efforts to confront the climate emergency – when we still had a chance to avoid that emergency and hold climate change to something far more manageable. Brazil hosted the 1992 Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro. There, all the leaders from every country on earth gathered to commit to reducing fossil fuel use and protecting forests to avoid disaster. I was there. And then I attended the Rio plus 5 gatherings where we hammered out a set of principles to chart a new course – to create a new relationship, synergistic and nurturing between all peoples of the earth and between the natural world and other species. The Earth Charter is the source of the six Green values that govern our party.
My last trip to Brazil was to Sao Paulo where the Global Greens gathered as we do globally every seven years.
I cherish every trip I have made to Brazil. My Green Brazilian colleagues, including Gilberto Gil and Marina Silva, are extraordinary. Time in the Amazon is beyond description. Mystical and magical.
And now we know that the current government of Brazil is willing to loot and burn a region that is the lungs of the planet. We must call for the world community to make protecting the Amazon our concern. We must find ways to reach out, inform the world and press Brazil through all available means to act now and protect its forests and Indigenous peoples.