Indigenous Rights and the Amazon Rainforest Fire

A few weeks ago, the fires in the Amazon rainforest were getting international attention for the environmental damage caused. And honestly, it was important that these fires got the attention they did.

But a seldom-reported aspect of this crisis is the damage that it is doing to indigenous lands.

In terms of indigenous rights in Brazil, the situation is already bad enough under their president, Jair Bolsonaro. Here’s a sampling of what Bolsonaro and his allies have already done, in his short time (a few months) in office, even before the Amazon fires:

  • There used to be offices in the Brazilian government looking after the health and education of indigenous people. Those offices were removed under Bolsonaro.
  • Bolsonaro has defended mineral exploitation on indigenous lands.
  • An indigenous tribe has received seemingly no help after their water source was destroyed earlier this year by a dam burst.[1]

Based on all these actions, and more, from the Bolsonaro government, I can see why many indigenous in Brazil and elsewhere fear that there is a genocide of indigenous people happening there. But with the fires, the situation has gotten worse. These fires, which seem to exist for the very purpose of clearing more land for industrialism, is literally invading and destroying many indigenous lands. Given the multitude of indigenous groups in the rainforest, the destruction of forests there may very well end up being the destruction of many indigenous groups as well. This fact, combined with the fact that recently, “a Brazilian congressional committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow commercial agriculture on indigenous reserves,”[2] indigenous communities are literally being pillaged and will have no recourse for being pillaged.[3]

And this is not getting talked about enough. Goodness, I’m not sure if I have heard any American television media mention how the fires impact indigenous people in Brazil. That’s a real shame, because given all the parts of the world where indigenous lands are endangered in pursuit of monetary profit (think of the Keystone XL Pipeline in the United States as an example), stories like this need to be covered. Stories like this need to be covered so that the world can come to a reckoning of what happens when short-term profit is prioritized at the expense of indigenous people.

So yes, there is an environmental crisis in Brazil as a result of these fires, but there is also a crisis for indigenous people in the Amazon as a result of the fires. Worse yet, unless we learn from what’s happening in the Amazon, similar things may continue to happen in other parts of the world.

[1] I should note that Al Jazeera seems to be one of the few international outlets following the anti-indigenous policies of Bolsonaro.


[3] I should note that the United States should not be “holier-than-thou” on indigenous rights, though.

An image of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Antonio Campoy [CC BY 2.0 ( image of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.