Kyne: Indigenous Amazon tribe endangered by dam construction

The Kayapó tribe is an indigenous community currently residing in Brazil’s tropical rainforest around the tributaries of the Xingu River. Recently Dilma Vana Rousseff, Brazil's president, authorized the construction of a dam that will not only wipe out the rainforest, but will destroy the lives of the Kayapó people.

Twenty thousand to 40,000 people including tribe members will be displaced and over 400 hectares of rainforest will be demolished. The complete lack of respect for the tribe and its land is incredibly disturbing; those affected can no longer be brushed aside.

This battle is not a new one for the tribe. Talk of building a dam in the Amazon has been going on since 1975. In the 1980s plans for the Belo Monte Dam were put forth and the fight against what would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam began. The Kayapó tribe has been able to hold the government off from moving forward on such a project, and has generated much support for their cause throughout the years. The protests, including a five-day-long media conference, gained worldwide attention. The World Bank denied funding to build the dam and a Brazilian federal court deemed construction illegal.

The Brazilian Supreme Court has since overruled the previous law and the tribe is facing the huge task of trying again to gain awareness and support by reaching out to nonprofit organizations worldwide. The tribe’s leaders secured 600,000 signatures petitioning the construction of the dam and delivered them to the Brazilian government, which held it off for a short while. Once again, however, the government has disregarded the tribe and torn its efforts to shreds. A full license to construct the dam has been issued.

Those pushing for the dam construction claim that it will give electricity to millions of Brazilians. People including professor Rodolfo Salm, a researcher in ecology at the federal university in Altamira, the largest town near the dam site, state that such a notion is a lie.

“This energy is not for homes, it is for mining,” Salm said. In an interview he also explained that while hydropower is one of the cleanest ways to produce electricity, the ecological damage on the rainforest will be drastic and dangerous, as the flooding will release massive amounts of methane, a hazardous greenhouse gas.

The tribe has launched another petition, and if the mainstream media gave this issue proper coverage the people of the Kayapó tribe might have chance. The outlook, however, is grim.

We see discrimination against indigenous people all over the globe – native peoples are continuously pushed out of their rightful homelands. Governments, not just in Brazil, are destroying the lives of natives and stripping them of their rights. While claims of progress and growth have been used to support such actions, we must factor in the damage this does to people and nature, both of which have been consistently ignored and sacrificed.

Many seem to view tribes such as the Kayapó with contempt, as if such groups are subhuman. It seems fair to presume that many of the people pushing for this project would throw a fit if they had their phones taken away, never mind their homes. The inept view of native peoples must be altered; a different lifestyle is not an inferior one.