During the Synod for Amazonia, we heard stories of young Indios who struggle against environmental exploitation, in recognition of their own identity, and they want to create an alliance with the young people of the West. The earth is not a good to be milked dry but an inheritance to be handed down.
Marcivana Rodrigues Paiva, an ethnic Sateré-Mawe, is from Manaus, and the youthful leader of Indigenous Peoples Coordination, (COPIME), the first organisation in Brazil to concern itself with the indigenous people in the urban context, participated in the Synod as an observer. Speaking of indigenous peoples in cities she says: “The problem of the indigenous peoples in the urban context is destined to become a brutal reality that can no longer be kept hidden. The lack of recognition of our presence in the cities denies us our rights, approved by Brazilian law. For the indigenous peoples forced to flee to the cities, the greatest danger is invisibility: those who cannot be seen have no rights ».
“Over the past five years, the exodus from the aldeias, the villages of the entire state, has greatly increased. Today, 52% of the indigenous population is to be found in the capital: they number 40,000 people of 45 different ethnic groups. Without land, we have no right to our identity. Finally Marcivana launches an appeal “to assist indigenous populations who come to the cities” by means of an “indigenous pastoral” suitable for them.
Delio Siticonatzi, 28, is from Peru. He belongs to the Ashaninka people. He studied at the Catholic Seat of Wisdom University of Nopoki, the centre for third-level studies created with the backing of the Vatican in the Vicariate of San Ramón in Atalaya (Ucayali), where studies are done in six different languages by young indigenous people from eighteen different ethnic backgrounds. He speaks to us of his difficult journey of ethnic discovery. It began when he was 13 years old and his parents sent him to school in Atalaya since his own community, Junín, had no middle school. “It was then I first had to face discrimination. I put up with the comments in silence until I could stand it no longer and I decided to stop dressing like an Ashaninka, speaking like an Ashaninka and just being and Ashaninka. I wanted them to stop despising me”. The turning point comes when he enrols in Nopoki (I am coming). “Nopoki taught me to rediscover the beauty of being indigenous. My belonging to the Ashaninka, which I first saw as a burden, became a plus for me”.
Delio has decided to dedicate himself to teaching in the native communities. “I wanted to help other boys to understand that it is cruel to deny one’s self”. When, in 2017, Nopoki offered him a post as a teacher, he left the civil service. While at the Synod, which he attended as an observer, he made the voice of the young people heard. “I proposed an alliance between us Indios and the young people of the North of the world. They, too, are concerned about the environment as the global warming strikes show. By ourselves we cannot achieve our aims. Only if we work together can we succeed”.
Yesika Patiachi proudly displays a waterfall adorned with the traditional images of his people, the Harakbut, ancient inhabitants of the Peruvian region of Madre de Dios. Yésica is a bilingual teacher of the Harakbut ethnic group. He lives in the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado
“We could have died out. We almost disappeared because of the “caucheros”, the natural rubber traders. If it had not been for Apaktone….” And so Yesica starts to tell us, in her calm teacher’s voice, of the trauma of the Harakbut who were massacred, in the late eighteen hundreds, by the men of the great rubber baron Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald. “At that time there were fifty thousand of us; now we are less than a thousand”.
The thirty-three-year-old woman combines stories of the massacres with that of the intrepid Dominican, José Alvarez, who defied both smugglers and prejudices to defend the Harakbut. “For us he is Apaktone, ‘our wise father’”. For the people of Madre de Dios, Pope Francis is, instead, ‘Wamambui’, the brother. “I always call him Wamambui Francesco”, Yesica insists. She met the Pontiff on 19 January 2018 when he went to Puerto Maldonado. “On that occasion, I was chosen to make the welcoming speech. I told him about the great fear we indigenes have of dying out, ignored by a system that does not accept us. Before I spoke, I was very excited but then I calmed down as I thought of my duty not to make mistakes, out of respect for my ancestors whom I was called to represent”. It was with that same sense of responsibility that I accepted the invitation to take part in the Synod as an observer. “Wamambui Francesco listens to the indigenous people”. He understands that human life on this planet is in danger. Yesica continues: “We asked the Pope that we be represented in national and international institutions, so that they will not allow us to die out as a people but allow us to live independently. It is we who feel the brunt of the crimes against the common home: no journalist has taken up the cause of our protests or that of the mothers who were hunted down and killed. We have no tribunal where we can denounce these crimes. We want our cause to make a breakthrough into human consciousness, without endangering humanity”. “Personally – Yesica emphasises – I do not trust the environmentalist movements: they often speak without ever having paid personally the cost of extractionism. For this reason I say this to the young people who took part in the climate: get informed. Come and see what is happening in Amazonia. We are also fighting for you. Do not leave us alone”.
Paulinha Meireles, 21, a Law student, was born and grew up on the outskirts of Manaus, the largest metropolis in Amazonia, says that “there is too much prejudice against the culture of the Indios. The Church is the last hope of the Amazonian peoples. Only the Church has the moral authority to bring their cries to the attention of the world. No one else; the parties and movements are accused of being partial”.
Paulinha remembers that also in Manaus, the schoolchildren went on strike against climate change. “I would never have thought it possible. Hitherto, there has been little interest in the environment. This reawakening is something beautiful. And it would be nice to create an understanding between two mutually distant parts of the world. We young people are the driving force for change and this gives me great confidence for the future”.