Course:FRST370/Assessing the Roles of Interested Stakeholders in Kayapo Conservation Efforts in the Xingu Basin, Brazil

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The Kayapó Indigenous community have been protecting their territory in the Xingu Basin since time immemorial. They have had to adapt quickly to the forces of the outside world that threaten their land and way of life. Through their struggle to assert their rights to their land and way of life, they have garnered support from national and international nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) as an integral conservation force as well as leaders in land-stewardship.


The land encompassed within the yellow border is the land of the Kayapó in the Xingu Basin, Brazil.

In this case study we will be looking at Assessing the Roles of Interested Stakeholders in Kayapó Conservation Efforts in the Xingu Basin, Brazil. The Xingu River, which arises in the woodland- savanna, flows north through the forests of Para for 2700 kms. The Xingu basin covers 51 million ha (20 million ha has been recognized as indigenous land)[1]. 25 Indigenous Peoples live along the Xingu River, and the Kayapó are one of these. The area where this river flows through is one of the world’s most intense deforestation zones due to infrastructure projects, mines, illegal logging/gold mining, lack of governance, and legal proposals to weaken Indigenous land rights [1]. In the first half of the 19th century, the Kayapó occupied the isolated middle Xingu in an attempt to flee these threats from the outsiders[1] .

History of Legal Protection

For the past 40 years, the Kayapó Indigenous peoples have been trying to protect their constitutional rights for their land as illegal resource extraction has increased in the Southeastern Amazon of Brazil[1]. However, historically, legal protections have not helped the Kayapó peoples protect their lands from interested stakeholders. In the 1980s and 1990s the Kayapó won the official recognition of their land but illegal resource extraction continues to take place as the southeastern Amazon severely lacks proper governance[2] . Using satellite images taken of the forests of the Kayapó between 2001-2019 shows a significant correlation between the absence of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization) and deforestation. Meaning, over time, NGOs have helped the Kayapó towards their goal of reclaiming their land greatly[2].

History of Threats to the Land of the Kayapó

In 1971 the Brazilian government tried to further decrease the amount of land the Kayapó possessed by building a major road through the Kayapó's land of the Xingu National Park. However, they secretly altered the route of the highway to cut-off parts of the Kayapó land [3]. The illegal gold mining began when there was a huge discovery of gold in the mine of Serra Pelada, which is near the eastern border of the Kayapó Indigenous Area[3]. This caused 3000 Brazilian miners to enter the area [3]. More than 20 square km of deforestation have been linked to gold mining in the forests of the Kayapó. This was confirmed by MAAP (Monitoring of the Andean Amazon), a program of the organization Amazon Conservation[4].

Kayapó with home-made signs against the hydroelectric dams.

Altamira Meetings (Turner 1993)

Invitations were given out to representatives of the Brazilian government, World Bank, international media, NGO’s, Indigenous Peoples. The purpose of the media attending the meeting was to compel the government representatives to defend their plans, perhaps to feel humiliated about those plans. The meeting was initiated by the Leader of the Kayapó, Payakan. In 1988, he travelled to several European and North American countries in an attempt to publicize the meeting and also to gather support for their human rights. Payakan’s tour was successful as he raised $100,000 to cover the costs of the meeting. The plan was to ask the government representatives to present their plans and to say how they would impact the environment and the human inhabitants, and why they were hiding these plans from the people that would be affected the most. The plan by the government to build huge hydroelectric dams on the Kayapó land was also a major initiating factor of the meetings. The meeting took place from February 19-24 in 1989 and took place in the small river town of Altamira. The attendees consisted of:

  • 600 Indigenous peoples from the Amazon (500 of these were Kayapó)
  • Roughly 600 Brazilian and internal journalists
  • Photographers
  • TV crews
  • Documentary filmmakers
  • Brazilian and foreign politicians
  • Various NGOs

Tenure arrangements

In the 1960s, when a new Brazilian Constitution was being written, a new measure was introduced defining any Indigenous person who had the capacity to bring legal action to court as an “acculturated” person was no longer able to be considered an Indigenous person[3]. This part of the constitution would prevent the Kayapó from representing themselves in court, and destroy the possibility of any legal/political resistance to be shown against the abuse of their rights [3].  

In the 1980s and 1990s the Kayapó people fought for the official recognition of their lands and they were granted it – terra Indigena. However this region of the land is compared to the “wild west” as it lacks proper governance, while there are laws written in to protect them, very little has been done in enforcing these laws[2]. The constitution written in 1988 recognized the Indigenous Peoples’ rights to practice their traditional practices forever “granting them permanent and exclusive usufruct rights over their traditional lands” [1].

In 1981, a meeting was held with the leaders of the Ticuna peoples to design a map to demarcate the area of the Indigenous peoples. The process of getting this land recognized was a long and difficult one. The map was reviewed in 1982, and twice in 1984, and then finally the proposal was approved by FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio) and the Working Group Interministerial in 1985. However, only four of the ten areas were approved, leaving the other areas to be susceptible to invasion. The National Security Council, FUNAI, the Amazon Government and the Tabatinga City Hall held a meeting to discuss this issue, however Indigenous representatives were excluded. In this meeting they discussed the division of the land. The reason only certain areas were approved and other were not was because the areas that were approved had the lowest Indigenous population, while the larger areas with exponentially higher conflict, did not have protection. This led to uncertainty of rights for the Indigenous people living in these areas. This was further fueled by the government that continued to discredit them and stay inactive during conflicts. The demarcation map was not fully recognised until 1991. However, there was a lack of budget for the demarcation of the Ticuna Areas. In March of 1992, FUNAI signed an agreement allowing the mobilisations of resources through the demarcation. Following FUNAI’s plans/costs, the Centro Magüta prepared the project for the demarcation which was presented to the Austrian government at a UN conference in Rio De Janeiro in June 1992. The demarcation project won the bureaucratic stages policies which led to the proposal being signed a year later in May 1993 providing the transfer of resources for demarcation[5].

In 2019, the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro introduced a Bill that will allow legal and illegal mining, oil/gas extraction, and other uses of the lands to take place on the Indigenous reserves of the Brazilian Amazon despite many of these reserves possessing legal recognition [4].

  • Bolsonaro claims that the Bill will bring development to the Indigenous peoples. However Marcio Santilli, the former head of FUNAI, disagrees. FUNAI is the Brazilian government's Indigenous rights agency. Santilli believes that if the bill passes in Brazil's Congress, exploitation of Indigenous people's natural resources by third party outsiders is almost entirely guaranteed [4].

Administrative arrangements

There were several components that were challenging the conservation efforts of the Kayapó peoples, especially from those with higher authoritative powers that could influence and dictate the rules and systems within the country. The Kayapó community themselves had a separate system of management and hierarchy. These systems influence the conservation efforts of the Kayapó.

1988 Constitution


Prior to the Constitution, until 1988, indigenous land had been ceded to Indigenous Peoples provisionally, meaning they had to assimilate themselves into the “national society” first. During this period of 25 years of military dictatorship, before the 1988 Constitution agreement observed them as individuals with rights, approximately 8,300 Indigenous peoples were treated unjustifiably. They were assassinations to Indigenous peoples taking place with little to no repercussions to the perpetrators.[6] It was the end of this military dictatorship which led to establishment of the 1988 Constitution.


The end of the military dictatorship gave Indigenous communities a strong legal basis for their struggle with the establishment of the 1988 Constitution. Under this constitution, all Indigenous land would continue to remain under ownership of the government but Indigenous peoples regained rights to possess their lands.. It states Indigenous peoples will be able to exercise control over the land they occupy and all extractive activities must be consulted prior with the communities residing in the affected areas. In reality, these provisions were often never applied.[7] Although Indigenous peoples gained rights to possess their land, this was not an easy process. Today, they are still untangling the mess of competing claims and official demarcations of indigenous boundaries are still being argued. The Temer administration (2016-2018) has halted this process, as there were efforts to increase the recognition of indigenous lands.

Government Agencies - Fundação Nacional do Índio

Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), National Indian Foundation is a Government body in Brazil that serves as the federal government’s indigenous rights agency. Indigenous peoples in Brazil are often being forced to live under conditions varying in degrees of invasion which disrupts their wishes for isolation. Several industrial companies including illegal miners, ranchers, loggers and other groups pose a risk to Indigenous lives and well-being and destroy their natural resources. FUNAI serves to ensure that their rights are respected as set out in the Brazilian Constitution and the Indian Statute.

Márcio Meira (2007-2012)

Although the goals and responsibility of FUNAI was to help Indigenous communities, there became a shift in this narrative as a new leadership was introduced. Márcio Meira was president of FUNAI between 2007 to 2012, during which time the agency implemented a number of inflammatory policies that negatively impacted the indigenous groups such as the licensing of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, the Teles Pires dam project and the São Manoel dam project[6].

Rather than support the Kayapó peoples and other Indigenous communities get demarcated, FUNAI under went some controversies that hindered these communities. The Kayapó territory experienced challenges and destruction due to the actions of FUNAI. Decisions were made by a small coterie of Kayapó leaders for self profit through the signing of deals which allowed for gold mining and logging to take place. A FUNAI document admitted: ”Lumbering and gold mining in the Kayapó Indian Area has never stopped. It has been argued they were needed to pay for consumption of industrial goods by the Indians, and to overcome financial difficulties, FUNAI had to offer care to that Indian group.”

Federal Government

The federal government dictates and has the overarching call on the laws and mandates that are to affect the Amazon as a whole including the Kayapó lands. Through history, it can be seen that those holding this power have had a direct influence on the conditions of these lands.

Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016)

Under the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, the reluctance of the government to conserve land continued to gain popularity as the government continued to publicly support “largely unregulated economic development in Amazonia”. The Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) which was expanded by Dilma during her presidency introduced large investments in highways, energy and water resource projects, all of which resulted in largely unregulated economic growth. This often was the cause of land fragmentation and loss of territory of Indigenous communities.

Jair Bolsonaro (2018 -)

There has been little done in support of the Kayapó peoples, especially from those holding administrative positions. The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro has constantly been known to undermine the rights and lives of the Indigenous peoples which is evident through his policies[8].

Due to the President's public support for land grabbers and the disregard and denial of Indigenous rights, land grabbers often felt empowered to resort to violence and destruction of Indigenous territories. There are projected increases in trends of illegal and illegal mining, oil/gas extraction, and other uses of the lands taking place on indigenous reserves with the instruction of a Bill that was introduced during this administration. Under the conditions that this Bill passes in Brazil's Congress, there will be a guarantee of the exploitation by third parties of the indigenous peoples natural resources[4].

Kayapó Hierarchy

Chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapó Indigenous Community at the National Indigenous Conference in Brasília, Brazil.

The Kayapó peoples live in central Brazil in the watershed of the Xingu River but the community is divided into smaller tribes and each tribe has their own chiefs. Only a few of the chiefs throughout history are known, such as Chief Raoni Metuktire who was a leader to the Kayapó but was also a well known environmentalist who protested infrastructures such as hydro electric dams that were to cause destruction to the Amazon. The chiefs are leaders for the Kayapó people but they have also made their presence known in protests as well as through discussions with the Brazilian government. There have been discussions on the use of the Amazon and the conservation efforts that are needed.

The Kayapó peoples believe that their ancestors gained their knowledge by living and learning from all the organisms around them. Both men and women in the community acquire the knowledge of nature and medicines from plants and can become shamans. The labour is split as women are expected to raise children and manage the home and men are to hunt and fish for their homes.

The health of the territorial lands greatly impact the Kayapó peoples as they rely heavily on the resources of the land. The destruction of the forest and the forests around it impact the livelihood of the Kayapó. The impact on animals, plant resources, water supply, and rivers for transportation that are located outside of the forests of the Kayapó, can still have devastating impacts on the forests of the Kayapó. The legally protected land of the Kayapó has the highest rate of deforestation and their land is in the center of the “arc of deforestation”

Affected Stakeholders

Visualizing the trends in remaining forest cover (red) and annual forest loss (blue) in the Amazon during the period of 1988 to 2018.

Kayapó Community

There are approximately 7000 Kayapó peoples that are distributed across 46 different villages in 5 different territories. The Kayapó live in central Brazil in the watershed of the Xingu River and their livelihoods are dependent upon their territorial lands. In turn, there is a mutual relationship built as the health of the forests greatly impact the Kayapó peoples due to this heavy reliance on the lands. The destruction of the forest and the surrounding environments not only affect the livelihood of the Kayapó but also the animals, plant resources, water supply, and rivers that are located outside of the forests of the Kayapó. The changes that occur in the surrounding ecosystems can still have devastating impacts on the forests of the Kayapó.

Despite being legally protected, the land of the Kayapó experiences the highest rate of deforestation in spite of their lands being in the center of the “arc of deforestation”[3] . The cause of  destruction of the Amazonian environment has been facilitated by a number of unregulated practices including the cutting and burning of the forest, construction of roads, mining and building of hydroelectric dams which causes soil erosion, and river pollution. 

The Kayapó peoples have struggled to protect their land rights as resource extraction began to rapidly increase in and around their traditional territories. The Kayapó community themselves do not hold much power from actions that are affecting the Amazon from outside the community despite there being several laws and mandates in place to protect the rights and lands of the Kayapó such as the 1988 Constitution. The mandates are not often not respected in response to the government who doesn’t display support for Indigenous rights which further diminishes the voice and rights of the Kayapó community.

Interested Outside Stakeholders

1. Conservation International

Conservation international is a non profit organization whose goals are to conserve the world’s living heritage as well as its global biodiversity. This organization teams up with communities and have been working with the Kayapó since 1992. Conservation International has worked alongside the Kayapó to strengthen the surveillance of their land as well as provide them with alternatives to logging in order to preserve biodiversity. This was by providing the Kayapó with boats, radios, overflights, fuel, border patrol training and aerial survey data to enhance surveillance. These mechanisms have shown to be successful by removing gold miners and scouting out areas that are vulnerable to these illegal activities[9]. Methods suggested by the organization as alternatives to logging such as harvesting non-timber forest products to generate income such as nuts, copaiba oil, fruit, and honey. These are highly abundant and easily harvested  in the Kayapó's forests. These are harvested because they can aid in the long-term conservation for the forests. This also in turn helped the Kayapó use their cultural traditions as a way of bringing in income as the harvesting of nuts has been a tradition for the Kayapó for generations. Conservation international showed the Kayapó on how to sell these nuts to generate an income[9].

They have the power ability to impact and strengthen the living conditions of the Kayapó community as they are a very big organization. They are able to provide funds, sources and serve as a voice for the Kayapó and this can be seen through the development of the Kayapó Fund. In 2011, the Kayapó fund was created for the long-term financial support for the conservation of the Kayapó forests. The Kayapó will have the opportunity to thrive economically while also acting as a barrier against the threats of deforestation. The means are possible as the fund targets the monitoring/protection of the Kayapó land and the development of sustainable economic activities. Through this fund, Conservation International could supply the Kayapó with the boats, radios and the other surveillance equipment.

2. Federal Government

The federal government's decisions and priorities are often made with the main objective of producing economic benefits and profits rather than in support of Indigenous communities. Various industrial projects approved and carried out as the federal government has the highest form of power and authority. The increase in destruction occurring in the forest is partly in response to the support given by President Jair Bolsonaro for loggers and other industrial motivations for economic benefit. He has spoken against environmental fines, and promotes logging as well as the clearing of lands and fires at the expense of the Indigenous communities who reside there. It is difficult for the Indigenous communities to take action against the federal government who publicly states his beliefs against the protection of the Amazon rainforest but they will continue to take matters into their own hands.

The industrial motivations by the government can be observed in the construction of the Trans-Amazonica highway through a portion of the Kayapó territory. The government covertly altered the route and amputated the Kayapó area of the Xingu National Park. There were also attempts to sell portions of this land to private owners, speculators, ranchers, and farmers. These outsiders often brought infectious disease and conflicts with members of the Indigenous community.

3. Survival International

Survival International is a human rights organisation whose main objectives are to support, assist and empower indigenous communities to regain their rights. FUNAI, which is a 'National Indian Foundation' under Survival International, was established as a part of the governing body to help the Indigenous communities in protecting their lands. As it is recognised as a part of the governing body, it holds relative power. This power was abused over time as projects and licenses for dams in the Kayapó were being passed.

In 1933 Brazil, Indigenous lands were to be officially demarcated and FUNAI was to assist communities. Although the goals and responsibility of FUNAI was to help Indigenous communities, this shifted as new leaders took over. The agency implemented a number of inflammatory policies that negatively impacted the indigenous groups such as the licensing of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, the Teles Pires dam project and the São Manoel dam project[6].

4. The Kayapó Project

The Kayapó peoples have struggled to protect their land rights as resource extraction began to rapidly increase in and around their traditional territories. The Kayapó Project is a non-government organisation (NGO) that was created through a Kayapó-NGO alliance to empower the Kayapó to defend their constitutional rights, protect their ecologically intact territories and develop sustainable economic autonomy[1]. The project serves to protect the rich biodiversity and the culture of the Kayapó peoples. In order for this mission to be successful, the Kayapó project assists in resource management and methods to produce an income within the Kayapó lands. Surveillance and protection were roles included as a part of management practices as there was a lack of law and government enforcement assisting the Kayapó. Due to the lack of enforcement provided by the government, there was an increase in illegal invasions on the lands. Guard posts were created and enforced by the Kayapó peoples to protect and survey their territories.

5. Indigenous Missionary Council

Display of the harms in the construction of the Bele Monte hydroelectric dam which resulted in the flooding of the Amazon basin and the displacement of Indigenous communities.

The Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) is an organisation linked to the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB). It is an important Catholic institution which aligned with Brazilian Indians in 1972. Their main objective is to support indigenous peoples in their fight for recovery, demarcation and integrity of their territories. They were formed to defend the rights of the Indigenous communities as well as assist the Indigenous leaders in setting up organisations and strategies to regain and secure their lands and rights[6].

Their level of power can be seen through the exploitation in the Amazon and its resources under different leaderships. Cleber César Buzatto, executive director of the Missionary Indigenous Council, claimed that under Dilma, there was a blatant disregard for indigenous rights for the sake of the success of the Growth Acceleration Program[6]. The PAC saw large investments in highways, energy and water resource projects, all of which resulted in largely unregulated economic growth. The Belo Monte Hydroelectric power plant on the Xingu River in the state of Pará is an example of such disregard. There was no prior consultation with the Kayapó peoples and other Indigenous communities in the region when considering the construction plan.

6. Industrial corporations

President Bolsonaro’s policies and his explicit encouragement to ‘open the Amazon for business' have resulted in the increase of exploitation by companies in the Amazon especially for timber and mining[10].

In 1983 discovery of gold in the Serra Pelada near the eastern border of the Kayapó Indigenous Area led to the opening of two large illegal gold mines that were in close proximity to the Gorotire village[3]. Three thousand Brazilian miners swarmed the area, neither FUNAI nor any other government body were willing or able to take any action to cease these invasions. Large concentrations of mercury from mining operations began to pollute the Rio Fresco, the main fishery of several Kayapó communities. In 1986, there was an attempt by the government to extract the radioactive waste from a nearby cancer treatment facility in Goiania which had caused two dozen deaths in the Kayapó territory.

Timber companies were interested in taking over large stands of old-growth  mahogany that were in the outskirts of the Kayapó reserve. They sought logging concessions from Kayapó leaders in exchange for large sums of money. This eventually led to in-fighting. The rivalries that were brought on by outsiders almost led to war between two Kayapó villages in 1986.


This case study aims to highlight the tireless efforts of the Kayapó people in protecting their territory and way of life. Efforts that have inadvertently garnered international attention and recognition of their stewardship success. This case study also attempts to shed light on the gross mistreating of the Kayapó people. Focusing our attention on the lack of governance that threatens to not only hinder their way of life, but to fully eliminate them from the narrative. While their territory rights have been legally observed and their right to practice their way of life has been highlighted within the Brazilian constitution, the harsh reality of the unjust treatment of the Kayapó people has been willfully ignored by the government. Their story has been largely misrepresented by the media, if not completely ignored.

The Kayapó people manage their forests with the larger goal of conservation and asserting their land rights through self-representation. Their traditional knowledge has been proven to yield some of the best results when it comes to land-stewardship practices. The Kayapó have been known to execute long-term transplanting and domestication of varying wildlife species. Many researchers believe that their inherited knowledge of the “subtle similarities” between microclimates will help in identifying interchangeable botanical material that will help “increase biological diversity in managed areas” which further proves that Indigenous knowledge is extremely important in the development of new conservation strategies [11].

The Kayapó people’s approach to wildlife conservation includes the role of human activity. The majority of the Kayapó people are currently advocating to completely outlaw any and all extractive activities within their territory. In an official statement made by the Mēbêngôkre-Kayapó people through their indigenous organisations; Associação Floresta Protegida, the Instituto Kabu and the Instituto Raoni, they are fully against the Brazilian government’s initiative known as PL 191/2020 bill, as well as any and all extractive activities within their territory. They also made it abundantly clear that they are extremely disappointed with the government’s continued encouragement of predatory activities by outsiders into Kayapó territory [12]

Since first contact, the Kayapó have not been able to stave off outsiders growing interest in their territory. They have had to adjust their way of life to adapt to the rise of industrialism and capitalist forces that surround their territory, as well as the increased hostility towards Indigenous peoples that has grown as a result[13]. That being said, it would be far too idealistic and naive to assume that these issues are entirely driven by outside forces. Unfortunately, through the exposure of the Kayapó people to these exploitative forces, some community members have succumbed to the monetary compensation offered by big logging and mining companies as well as rancher settlers. The Kayapó people have acknowledged that they do not completely reject all of what the outside world has to offer, that they have embraced certain "industrially manufactured products" that help enhance their everyday life (i.e. clothes, communication instruments and transportation tools). In the collective statement made by the Mēbêngôkre-Kayapó people, they talk about what they have learned from engaging with outsiders and the products they offer:

"Today, therefore, we need sources of cash to buy these essential items. But we have also come to understand that there are two very different paths to money. One path is fast, easy money that leads inevitably, as we have witnessed, to the destruction of our territories and natural resources, infighting, poisoning of our rivers, degradation of out society and condemnation of present and future generations to lives of poverty and dependence on the Kuben (non-Indigenous people)."[12]

During an interview with Barbara Zimmerman, the Director of the Kayapó Project under the International Conservation Fund of Canada (ICFC), she comments that it is not surprising that some of the Kayapó have been swayed by the trappings offered by the outsiders. Indigenous people are not immune to the trappings of the capitalistic world outside their territory. Over the last 20 years (approximately), some of the Kayapó have made millions of dollars selling illegal gold-mining and mahogany-logging concessions[14].

The Kayapó's main goal is to eliminate logging, mining, and other such mass extraction practices by outsiders as well as fellow community members . Their forest management practices aim to protect and conserve their territory for future generations, subsistence and for environmental health as a whole. The Kayapó have increased their participation in the global economy over the last few years, in hopes to achieve greater financial stability, to take advantage of modern healthcare, and to provide more opportunities for its community overall. Kayapó led enterprises have seen some success. The sale of non-timber forest products such as Brazil-nuts has led to a partnership between The Body Shop, UK and the Kayapó people of A’Ukre[14]. The above example is unfortunately rare, as there is so little governance within the territory. According to a 2005 article by Stephan Schwartzman and Barbara Zimmerman, resource extraction in Indigenous territories (not specifically within the Kayapó territory, but in Indigenous territories across the Amazon) are often unregulated, and in most cases completely illegally. This is due in large part to the lack of government support. While the Kayapó have a constitutional right to their land and thus control over the resources within it, the government has not upheld their duty to protect these rights. Often going against them and threatening to strip them of these rights.

Despite the temptations of these outside forces, most Kayapó community members have chosen the less lucrative path of conservation when offered an alternative (i.e. the conservation path offered by the alliance with conservation NGOs)[14]. The Kayapó people have recognised that the path offered by most conservation NGOs align with their traditional practices, and emboldens their ancestors teachings that rely on territorial protection and empowerment of their people. Alliances with NGOs has been proven to be a significant attribute to the Kayapó’s success in conserving their territory and their constitutional rights thus far. According to the satellite images analysed in the 2020 paper by Zimmerman et al., it showed that areas where NGO investments were absent became deforestation hotspots, while areas where the presence of NGO investments experienced the opposite effects[1]. “Some native tribes have staged protests, pressured the government, and fought on the ground to secure their rights. Some have also formed alliances with environmental and Indigenous-rights organisations, which have helped them to form their own nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), enabling them to enlist further outside backing.”[2]. The Kayapó are hard at work to establish themselves through building Kayapó owned sustainable businesses and Kayapó run community based tourism with the support of international and Indigenous led NGOs.

Assessment and Recommendations

In an article by Barbara Zimmerman for National Geographic in 2013, she describes the region as the "wild west", due to the lack of governance. She reaffirms this sentiment during an interview conducted during this case study where she describes this appalling lack of governance as being the main challenge faced by the Kayapó people. Most, if not all of the Kayapó people’s support has come from partnering with NGO’s and through them garnering national and international support from concerned members of the public. While the Brazilian government is lawfully obligated to protect the rights of all Indigenous peoples, as stated by the constitution, they have unfortunately failed to do so. Brazilian Presidents (past and present) and their governments have historically expressed apathy towards the plight of Indigenous communities. Over the last twenty years (approximately) apathy has grown into full-blown anti-indigenous sentiment. Especially presently under President Bolsonaro’s time in office.

Since the time of former President Michel Temer, there has been a significant rise in “anti-indigenous land offensives”[6]. He was voted into office with the help of bancada ruralista (a parliamentary bench that protects the interests of rural land owners), with the promise that he would reverse the Indigenous land measures. During his time in office, he actively tried to hinder any new territory acknowledgements and turned a blind-eye whenever there were any issues at the border of Indigenous territories. Currently, under President Bolsonaro’s reign he is actively fighting to strip Indigenous peoples of their rights completely. He has emboldened anti-indigenous groups, logging and mining lobbyists and other interested parties when he was reported saying Indigenous people “don’t speak our language, but they have managed to get 14% of our national territory”, “many reserves are located strategically”, “one of the intentions of this is to impair us” and “someone arranged this”[15]. The Kayapó community has taken the law into their own hands, and have aligned themselves with local and international NGOs. The goal of these alliances has been to empower the Kayapó to defend themselves (providing them with the back up they are not getting from the government) against exploitative forces, protect the unique ecosystem and extensive biodiversity within their territory as well as “develop sustainable economic autonomy within the lawless frontier zone of the southeastern Amazon”[1]. During the interview with Barbara Zimmerman, she shared with us the role that NGOs such as the Kayapó Project (and others like it), is to explain the outside world to the Kayapó people and to empower them with knowledge to make their own decisions. The Kayapó people will continue to fight for their rights as well as the health of the Amazon on behalf of the rest of the world by continually demonstrating that they do not need to destroy their forests and rivers in order to gain access to the manufactured goods that they have come to rely on. Despite the lack of concern shown by the government and many Brazilian nationals (those who share in the anti-Indigenous rhetoric), they continue to protect the Amazon not just for themselves but because they know that without these forests, there will be irreversible effects of climate change that will affect food supply to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

The Kayapó community are in the midst of what could be considered ethnocide. While their rights are literally inscribed in the constitution, the lack of governance has put them in a very precarious position. Their rights and status have constantly been challenged by the government which has emboldened outside forces to try and take what they want without the Kayapó people’s consent. This has destabilized their community in the sense that this has caused in-fighting, they have had to search outside of their own government for help, and they have been forced to participate in a political, economical and environmental system that they are not accustomed to in such a short period of time. In order to affect change, the government must be made responsible for their actions and held accountable for their responsibilities to all of its citizens, which include the Indigenous communities. While it is unlikely that Bolsonaro and his government will change their stance of their own accord, they might be persuaded to enact change if there is significant pressure from the international community. It is not enough to publish statements of condemnation. Because they are economically driven, we would suggest boycotting, taxing and/or placing bans on their agribusiness products (like beef), as it is their biggest export.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Zimmerman, Barbara; Schwartzman, Stephen; Jerozolimski, Adriano; Esllei, Junio; Santini, Edson; Hugh, Sonia (2020). "Large Scale Forest Conservation With an Indigenous People in the Highly Threatened Southeastern Amazon of Brazil: The Kayapo". Encyclopedia of the World's Biomes: 27–34.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Zimmerman, Barbara (2016). "Rain Forest Warriors: How Indigenous Tribes Protect the Amazon".
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Turner, Terrence (1993). "The Role of Indigenous Peoples in the Environmental Crisis: The Example of the Kayapo of the Brazilian Amazon". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 36: 3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Cannon, John C. (2020). "Gold mining threatens indigenous forests in the Brazilian Amazon".
  5. Ricardo, B; Ricardo, F (1991). Povos Indígenas no Brasil. Instituto Socioambiental. pp. 307, 308.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Branford, Sue; Torres, Mauricio (2017). "Tapajós Under Attack 12: Indigenous Groups, the Amazon's Best Land Stewards, Under Federal Attack".
  7. Rabben, Linda (1995). "Kayapo Choices: Short-Term Gain vs. Long-Term Damage".
  8. Maisonnave, Fabiano (2019). "Amazon's indigenous warriors take on invading loggers and ranchers".
  9. 9.0 9.1 Conservation International (2020). "Brazil's Kayapó - Stewards of the Forest". Conservation International.
  10. Amazon Watch (2020). "Global NGOs: Dirty Dozen Companies Driving Deforestation Must Act Now to Stop the Burning of the World's Forests". Amazon Watch.
  11. Posey, Darrel Addison (June 1985). "Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayapó indians of the Brazilian Amazon". Agroforestry Systems. 3: 139–158 – via Springer.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Mēbêngôkre-Kayapo Indigenous People (October 2020). "Kayapó Declaration Against Mining" (PDF). Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  13. Branford, S; Torres, M (April 2017). "Tapajós Under Attack 12: Indigenous Groups, the Amazon's Best Land Stewards, Under Federal Attack". Latin American Bureau.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Zimmerman, B.; Peres, C.A.; Malcolm, J.R.; Turner, T. (2001). "Conservation and Development Alliances with the Kayapó of South-Eastern Amazonia, a Tropical Forest Indigenous People". Environmental Conservation. 28(1): 10–22 – via JSTOR.
  15. The Associated Press (27 August 2019). "The Latest: Brazil leader criticizes indigenous reserves". Retrieved 27 November 2020.

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This conservation resource was created by Veena Vinod, Elysa Razif, Atiyah Heydari. It is shared under a CC-BY 4.0 International License.