In a landmark development announced on 5 September 2023, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva officially recognised two Indigenous territories in Brazil. These recognitions grant legal protection to these lands, offering a crucial defence against invasions by illegal loggers, gold miners, and cattle ranchers. This significant announcement coincided with Brazil's ‘Amazon Day’, a celebration of its Amazon region, which houses the world's largest tropical rainforest.
This milestone achievement follows a long history of relentless advocacy by the Yawanawa, dating back to 1983 when Yawanawa Chief Nixiwaka spearheaded the demarcation of the Yawanawa - Katukina territory in Acre. This historic event established the Yawanawa as the first community in Indigenous history to legally demarcate their territory, originally spanning 82 thousand hectares. In a testament to their unwavering dedication, in 2007, they initiated a request to expand the demarcated territory to 187 hectares, encompassing an additional 105 hectares of critical headwaters and river areas. After enduring prolonged bureaucratic processes, this expansion has now achieved official recognition.
The two lands recognised by President Lula are Acapuri de Cima and the Rio Gregorio Indigenous territories in the states of Amazonas and Acre, respectively. These areas are home to the Kokama and Katukina-Yawanawa communities, and they play a vital role in the protection of the Amazon rainforest. Environmentalists emphasise that Indigenous groups are among the best stewards of the rainforest, as data shows that forests within their reservations are the best conserved—in a period of 38 years, Brazilian Indigenous Territories lost less than 1% of their vegetation area, while in private areas this result was a staggering 17%. “We are the guardians of the Amazon,” stated Indigenous Peoples Minister Sonia Guajajara. “Protecting our territories guarantees our lives and ensures the diversity needed to face climate change.”
Some 500 Kokama people live on 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) of rainforest in the first reservation, and 2,000 Katukina and Yawanawa people live on 187,944 hectares (46,420 acres) in the second. “It's an important time for us indigenous peoples, the demarcation of indigenous lands is the number one solution to ending the climate crisis. We can't talk about the Amazon standing up with indigenous blood on the ground,” remarked Célia Xakriabá, indigenous educator and activist.
Despite the myriad of challenges that they have faced—from colonisation and exploitation to displacement from their ancestral lands and exposure to threats, diseases, and industries from the outside world—the Yawanawa people continue to demonstrate their resilience and determination to preserve their unique culture and provide guidance on better ways of living in harmony with the environment.