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(CNN) - In the heart of the Amazon, Ajareaty Waiapi performs one of the most traditional rituals of his tribe. The tribal chief crushes the blood red urucum seeds in a thick paste and generously applies it to her bare face, chest and torso. The mixture protects your skin from the sun and insects. It is also believed to ward off evil spirits.
For decades, the Waiapi have lived in the Brazilian state of Amapa, almost isolated from the non-indigenous world and in harmony with the rainforest. The river and the trees that sustain its lifestyle are often described as the lungs of the world.
Chief Ajareaty Waiapi next to the Onca River looking towards the forest.
Now, the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, wants to change that, with proposals that include removing the tribe from its legally demarcated territory and opening the land to the miners to exploit inactive deposits of copper, iron and gold near their homes.
Its business-friendly policies in the Amazon have recently been attacked for encouraging deforestation, as massive forest fires now devastate large areas of the rainforest.
READ: Bolsonaro says he loves the Amazon, but his policies are designed to wreak havoc
The Waiapi believe they are the guardians of the Amazon and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect it. CNN gained rare access to a Waiapi village and spoke with tribal leaders about what could happen if the government expropriated their lands.
A mysterious death in indigenous land
The Waiapi believe that they owe their existence to a melody played by the divine creator Jane Jara. According to legend, Jane Jara began playing a song on a long flute made from the trunk of a packing tree. While singing and playing, the Waiapi were born.
The Waiapi came into contact with non-indigenous people in 1973, when the Brazilian government began building a new highway, known as the northern perimeter BR-210. The project was abandoned three years later, but it was built enough to allow fur hunters and miners to reach Waiapi land, bringing diseases such as measles and altering their lifestyle.
The tribe moved away from what the "invaders" call in the 1980s and took control of the area, according to a study published by the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), a Brazilian nonprofit environmental defense group.
“Some time ago, we lived well; we didn't care about the land, ”says Ajareaty, 59, one of the few Waiapi female bosses. “We did not know that in the future we would have many invaders, loggers and mining explorers. Many talk about our land today, they say they want to take our land. ”
A rainbow shines on the village Jakare, in the state of Amapa.
Its village, Kwapo'ywyry, is one of the 92 Waiapi villages that dot the approximately 600,000 hectares in northern Brazil that were officially declared an indigenous reserve in 1996. The area was classified by the National Agency for Indigenous Affairs of Brazil (National Foundation del Indio, FUNAI) as a “traditionally occupied indigenous reserve”.
"Our leaders struggled a lot to demarcate indigenous land because we heard that if we didn't do it, non-indigenous leaders would come in and end our land in the future," says Chief Ajareaty. "That's why we made the demarcation."
But legal recognition has not completely protected their land from intrusion, they say. In July, members of the tribe claimed that a group of miners illegally invaded the nearby town of Mariri and killed Chief Emyra Waiapi, 68.
Viseni Waiapi, who lives in the village of Ajareaty, was one of the people who found Emyra's lifeless body covered in wounds in a local river, he said. A few days later, on July 27, he sent an almost five-minute audio message to the Brazilian and international media, claiming that a group of heavily armed illegal miners and non-indigenous people had violently stabbed Emyra in his entire body , including his genitals.
"We are asking for help," Viseni said in Portuguese during the message. "We are in grave danger."
Karuwaniru Waiaipi protects his little son from the rain with a leaf, while walking along the BR-210 North Perimeter Road near the town of Aramira.
Shortly after the news of Emyra's death, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, issued a statement asking the Brazilian government to “reconsider its policies towards indigenous peoples and their lands, so that the Emyra Waiapi's murder does not predict a new wave of violence. ”
Bolsonaro reacted to the claims and told reporters in Brasilia that the Federal Police was investigating the death and was not convinced that Emyra had been killed. “So far, there is no strong evidence that this indigenous (chief) has been killed. There are several possibilities, ”he said. "The Federal Police are there, they are being sent there to get to the bottom of the case and discover the truth about this."
On August 16, the Brazilian Federal Police finally issued a preliminary report, concluding that Emyra had suffered a head injury and that the cause of death was drowning. He stressed that during the initial investigation they found no signs that non-indigenous people invaded the reserve or a possible confrontation, and that the police were still waiting for a toxicology report in the next thirty days.
Four days later, the Waiapi Peoples Association issued a statement rejecting the police report and claiming to have images showing that Emyra had been stabbed. The Association said the photos had been delivered to the Federal Police, FUNAI and the Human Rights Commission of the lower house of the Brazilian Congress. He also said that the river where Emyra was found was shallow and that it would be very difficult for an adult to drown by accident.
Brazil's Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said during an event in Sao Paulo on August 20 that Emyra had drowned after drinking too much.
“It seems that the sad death of an indigenous leader, which some media have attributed to illegal miners who say they invaded the land and killed him, was caused by the fact that he drank too much cachaçinha (Brazilian liquor), fell into the river and drowned ”, He said without offering any evidence to corroborate the supposed consumption of the drink. CNN contacted the Ministry of Environment to request evidence to support the minister's statement, but did not receive a response
The use of indigenous lands
Bolsonaro has said that he believes that too much land has been given to indigenous communities and that they stand in the way of development and financial growth in Brazil. He has also said that he wants to get the tribes out of demarcated areas and "integrate indigenous people into society."
"There are places where we could be producing things and we can't because we can't draw a straight line without tripping over indigenous lands or an environmentally protected area," Bolsonaro said on August 16 in Brasilia. "As long as I am president, there will be no new land demarcated as indigenous territory."
About 13% of Brazil is legally considered indigenous land, mainly in the Amazon. This land is reserved for the country's 900,000 indigenous people, who represent less than 0.5% of the country's population.
The work of certifying indigenous lands has long belonged to FUNAI, a task that Bolsonaro tried to move to the Ministry of Agriculture - which is strongly influenced by the interests of the meat and soybean industry in Brazil - an attempt that was later rejected by both Congress and the Supreme Court.
Part of the Waiapi reserve is located in the Copper and Associates National Reserve (RENCA), a protected area slightly larger than Denmark, which occupies approximately 46,100 square kilometers of land in the states of Amapá and Pará. It is believed to be a land rich in gold, copper and other minerals and has been protected by presidential decree against commercial mining since 1984.
During a presidential visit last April to Macapá, the capital of the state of Amapá, Bolsonaro said he wanted to open the reserve for commercial mining. "Let's use the riches God gave us for the welfare of our population," he said. "RENCA is ours."
Bolsonaro's predecessor, Michel Temer, previously tried to abolish RENCA's protection and open it for development, only to reverse the decision a month later after the reaction of Brazilian and international environmental groups.
Where would tribes like the Waiapi go if their lands became industrial mining or livestock areas? Bolsonaro would like to see them abandon indigenous life, he said previously. “We practically only see indigenous reserves in rich areas. We want to integrate indigenous people into our society. Indigenous people are human beings like you and me, ”Bolsonaro said during an event in Sao Paulo last June.
“They want television, they want internet, they want football, they want to go to the movies. They want to do what we do. They want to go to the doctor, to the dentist. That is what we want for the indigenous people, to integrate them into society, as human beings, like us. ” In the same event, he blamed "NGOs outside Brazil" for creating "external pressure" to cordon off indigenous areas.
Christian Poirier, director of a program for Amazon Watch, a nonprofit group based in the US, told CNN that the Bolsonaro narrative only empowers local agricultural companies and ranchers in the area and encourages them to take Land control at any cost.
"When Bolsonaro says that the indigenous people have too much land, what he really says is that the militias (of local farmers) can act with impunity," Poirier told CNN during a telephone interview. "What we are witnessing is unprecedented, we have not seen such invasion of demarcated lands in decades."
In its latest report on Brazil, Amazon Watch warned about the dangers of deforestation, environmental crimes and human rights violations, and argued that indigenous land rights are "intrinsically linked" to the preservation of the biome. "These territories are the last protection buffer against possible climate chaos on the planet," said Poirier. "Indigenous peoples are at the forefront and at the forefront of resistance."
There will be "big fires"
Ororiwa Waiapi, 98, head of the villages of Mogywyry and Pyrankenopa, is one of the oldest people in the tribe. He says he has no interest in leaving the forest and fears what may come if he does not keep fighting to protect it.
"I've always been here and I won't leave," says Ororiwa. “If humans abuse this planet, our creator will make a great flood that will melt the planet. There will be great fires, fires that will destroy the planet. ”
Ororiwa Waiapi walks in the forest near the village of Mogywry, in the state of Amapa. The 98-year-old leader is one of the oldest chiefs in the tribe.
In recent weeks, the world has seen dramatic media coverage and social media images of the Amazon on fire. Since the beginning of 2019, the National Space Research Institute of Brazil (known as INPE) has reported 80,626 fires in the country until Sunday night, and more than half of these occur in the Amazon region.
According to the institute, there has been an 85% increase in deforestation so far this year compared to last year. It is believed that many of the fires were initiated by ranchers and farmers who use fire to clean or clear the land.
World leaders, including the president of France, Emmanuel Macron, described the fires as "international crisis" and made it a topic of discussion during the G7 meetings.
LEE: Brazil will reject 20 million dollars of aid of the G7 against fires of the Amazon
This happens a few days after Norway and Germany suspended the donations of millions of dollars to the Amazon Fund, which was created more than ten years ago as a global effort to help Brazil fight deforestation and expand biodiversity research in the forest. Norway has also accused the Bolsonaro government of violating key elements of the agreement.
Chief Ajareaty Waiapi prepares a bonfire outside her home in the village of Kwapo'ywyry.
Learn the ways of non-indigenous people
Chief Ajareaty has been studying non-indigenous culture for years. He has traveled within Brazil and abroad, where he participated in forums and represented his tribe in countries such as Germany and Colombia.
“I told myself, I want to learn what non-indigenous life is like. How is your life, ”says Ajareaty, who takes Portuguese classes at a nearby school. “I want to know how to speak your language. I want to learn, so I can talk to white people. ”
Little Ruwan Waiapi plays in the jungle. His father, Jawaruwa Waiapi, spoke to the United Nations in New York to ask for international support for the Brazilian Amazon and the indigenous tribes that live there.
Waiapi's land protection goes beyond the livelihood of his tribe, his daughter and his granddaughter, she says. It is about protecting the planet and all living things. “We don't think about today, we think about the future. In the future, our children and grandchildren will not be able to live well if we do not demarcate the land, ”he says. “In the forest there are many things, fruits, fish, animals and also our medicine. Our concern is that if the forest leaves, people will end too. ”
She says she has been training her daughter, Karota, 20, and hopes she will follow in his footsteps someday.
“She always talks about the fight for the land, for our land and for our rights,” said Karota, while holding her little baby. "This is very important for me, to keep fighting for future generations."