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Tribal Link Welcomes to New York Nilson Tuwe Huni Kuin, 2012 Indigenous Fellow

Tribal Link’s Indigenous Fellowship Program (IFP) aims to assist indigenous peoples from around the world in fulfilling their educational and cultural/capacity building needs by enabling them to pursue training in their field of interest with the ultimate goal of improving life in their community. The IFP is tailored to the needs of each individual, keeping his or her community in mind.

We are supporting Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui to live in New York to study English as a Second Language for a semester, as well as take classes in filmmaking and editing. Nilson arrived to New York on September 1, 2012 to begin the fellowship.

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Nilson is the son of the traditional chief of the Huni Ku Kaxinawá peoples of Brazil. He is an indigenous youth leader, a spokesperson for his peoples and their issues domestically and internationally, and is also a film maker who is currently documenting an emerging issue on the border between Peru and Brazil – peoples in voluntary isolation are forced to leave their lands and are approaching the territories of the Kaxinawa peoples of the Western Amazon.

Tribal Link met Nilson in 2008 at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s 9th Conference of the Parties in Bonn, Germany. Nilson’s dream and vision is to learn English in order to be able to speak directly for himself when carrying out the political mandate of his peoples abroad, and to improve his film-making skills as he is in a unique position to communicate effectively about this and other issues. When we met with Nilson again in Rio this Summer, we knew we must assist this dynamic young leader as he brings his community’s issues, and those of his uncontacted “neighbors” into the public consciousness.

Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui in His Own Words

My name in Portuguese is Nilson, I am from the Huni Kui people. I live in the Kaxinawá Indigenous Land of the Humaitá River, in the village São Vicente, which is located in the municipality of Tarauacá, in the state of Acre, Brazil

I have a great interest to get support to study outside of Brazil and to learn to speak English. I want to use it as a tool in my political advocacy nationally and internationally.

English will help me finish and share with the world my film about issues faced by my community and uncontacted tribes of the Amazon.

Speaking English will enable me to use quality filmmaking software to finish my film and speak to people around the world about the film’s message: the threat to my community as the result of displaced uncontacted tribes who are being pushed from their lands.

I am the son of a traditional leader, who was the first person that began the struggle for the demarcation of our land and the securing of our rights. He began to work with a plan for us to organize. Currently, I am continuing the work that he started and he is advising us.

I am President of the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the Humaita River- ASPIRH, a filmmaker, and an indigenous agroforestry agent, working in the territorial and environmental management of our land and it’s surroundings. This involves various actions: surveillance, inspection, implementation of agroforestry systems, as well as the control of waste, management of natural resources, such as straw for covering houses, raising of native bees, repopulation of turtles, etc.

Some people say “wealth is to have a lot of money” but for us, indigenous peoples that live in the forest, this is not so. Wealth is to have an abundance of fish, game, healthy forest, and a life of quality and liberty. All this guarantees the future of the new generations, because it is not worth it for us to think just about the present, we have to think as well for the future of our children, our grandchildren, so that they too can have this diversity of natural resources and culture.

Above all I am a spokesperson and a messenger of my people, who have been working on a public policy, which focuses on collective participation to improve the quality of life of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, we work on self-determination and to have our own autonomy. 

Emergent Issues in the Amazon: The Kaxinawá and Peoples in Voluntary Isolation

On the border between Brazil and Peru, in the basin region of the upper Juruá River, imbricated in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, are concentrated most of the indigenous lands of Acre and also some of the greatest biodiversity of the planet. There live indigenous peoples of different ethnic groups that compose a complex diversity of knowledge, cultures, and ways of living. However, this balance finds itself under threat. Because of deforestation and development of the Amazon, these isolated tribes from Peru are migrating across the board into Brazil. These tribes are unknowingly infringing upon the Kaxinawá territories near that boarder.

Even with the efforts of activists and organizations to respect the choice of isolation, not enough importance has been given to the delicate issue of isolated peoples: they face endangerment by infrastructure projects such as roads, hydroelectric dams, as well as the exploration of timber, petroleum and gas.

Besides the environmental impact of such projects, they force the isolated Indians to begin to migrate to regions where they feel more protected and where they could somewhat maintain their quality of life. When they approach our villages, they do so under the cover of night to steal pots, nets, axes, machetes, and other items. The only thing they do not take is rifles.

Moreover, direct contact with foreigners could cost them their lives: if met with the white man, they would be at great risk of succumbing to different types of diseases, as well as illegal actions of extermination and killings subordinate to vested economic interests.

My Film about this Issue

I am starting to work on the editing of a film about the isolated Indians that have begun to come onto the land of the Kaxinawá. Out of respect for our neighbors living in voluntary isolation, my father who fought for our demarcation did not infringe upon these lands. He respected their place there. We believed that when these tribes wanted to make contact with us they would appear and do so themselves but not under such precarious circumstances.

In partnership with the Catitu Institute, I am now undertaking this work, which is very important for my people, for my land, and to some extent for all of the Brazilian Amazon. It is essential to reveal to the outside world that there exist an Indian known as an Indian without contact, a “wild” Indian, that really only has contact with nature.

The main objective of the film is to research, record, and show the world how they live and what are the problems they are facing today. It is a full-length film and the idea is to finish it by the end of 2012. I began the project during a workshop of information and sensitization held by FUNAI, the Pro-Indian Commission (CPI-Acre) and the Association of Indigenous People of the Humaitá River.

In this workshop, a joint proposal was issued by the Federal Government, the Government of the State of Acre, CPI-Acre, FUNAI and the Association of the Indigenous People of the Humaitá to work on a unified policy to protect these isolated Indians.

Who Are the Huni Kui (Kaxinawá)

In the state of Acre, the largest indigenous population is composed of my people, the Huni Kui, also known as the Kaxinawá. We are called Huni Kui to signify true folk or people. We are distributed in 12 lands in Acre, some bordering with Peru. Although we are considered just one people, there are cultural, social, political differences among the communities, as well as in how we organize and how we live.

Today we have what is ours: demarcated land, our autonomy, and we are working in a policy to show to Brazil and the world who we are, how we live and what we are doing on planet Earth.

The Kaxinawá Indigenous Land of the Humaitá River- Hene shãwãyà, was demarcated in 1983, with an extension of 127,383 hectares, distributed in 5 villages with approximately 520 people, men, women, youth and children, composed of various social categories. It is located in the municipality of Tarauacá/Acre, up the Muru River, located on the left bank.

With the lands demarcated, with the conflicts appeased and with recognition of the indigenous identity, a strong “pro-culture” movement was born and is growing day after day among the Kaxinawá, mainly in the village of São Vicente, on the Humaitá River, in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, distant four days by boat from the Turauacá-AC municipality.

The Kaxinawá peoples’ history was marked by violent conflicts and armed expeditions that resulted in massacres, the introduction of viral diseases, slavery, exacerbation of intertribal conflicts, occupation of ancient traditional territories by northeastern rubber tappers and frontiersmen, which resulted in the dispersion of the culture and traditional knowledge.

This historical situation lasted until the end of the 70’s, when the Kaxinawá of the Jordão and Humaitá Rivers began their cooperative movements and began to fight for the regularization of their lands. It was the beginning of a new time, known as the “time of rights”, marked by the free commercialization of rubber, by the cooperative movement, by the conquest and demarcation of their lands, by the emergence of schools and indigenous school education.

The search for the strengthening of culture led to intertribal exchange, a growth of interest on the part of youth in ancestral customs, the redemption of intangible heritage. It begins, then, the reclaiming of their identity.

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