A View from Brazil: Promoting Indigenous Leadership in Pará, Mato Grosso and Beyond

by Allison Martin, Strategy Analyst, Global Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities Program, The Nature Conservancy

The Amazon was even more beautiful than I had imagined. Even in the big city of Belém, in Brazil’s Pará state, every space was bursting with foliage, delighted epiphytes (“air plants” that grow on trees or other structures) and boisterous birds of all shapes and sizes. My eyes widened at the huge mango trees lining the streets, and I learned that the impact these large fruits can have when falling on unsuspecting windshields leads many residents to purchase mango insurance for their cars.

I was taking all this in on the drive to a site in the forest just outside Belém, where I would join The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Brazil’s Indigenous Program and our indigenous and government partners in an indigenous-led seminar to strengthen their leadership and participation in Pará’s sustainable development planning and activities.

Salto Utiariti, one of many waterfalls located in the Paresi territories in Brazil. Photo © Helcio Souza/The Nature Conservancy

Indigenous peoples in Brazil and around the world are vital leaders in the pursuit of lasting solutions to the world’s most pressing conservation and development challenges. Their rights to and relationship with lands and waters, and longstanding knowledge of natural systems and resources, make them critical and inspirational allies for building a healthy and sustainable future. In Brazil, indigenous lands make up 24% of the Brazilian Amazon, and a recent study shows that in Brazil between 2000 to 2012, forest loss was only 0.6 percent inside indigenous lands compared with 7.0 percent outside.

The Nature Conservancy is working in partnership with indigenous peoples and local communities to transform the way land and waters decisions are made by strengthening their voice, choice and action to shape and manage natural territory in ways that improve lives and drive conservation. Our partnerships in Brazil promote indigenous leadership in territorial and environmental management, ethno-development projects and multi-stakeholder collaboration to support indigenous authority and capacity in securing better outcomes for both people and nature.

Francinara Bare of COIAB leads a discussion on strengthening indigenous leadership in Pará state development initiatives. Photo © Helcio Souza/The Nature Conservancy

Helcio Marcelo de Souza, TNC Brazil’s Indigenous Program Manager, introduced me to the seminar leaders, whose organizations have longstanding partnerships with TNC. Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (APIB) represents indigenous peoples throughout the country; Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira (COIAB) represents the indigenous peoples of the Brazilian Amazon; and Federação dos Povos Indígenas do Pará (FEPIPA) represents the indigenous peoples in Pará state.

Throughout the week, I witnessed the power of partnership among these “indigena” organizations like COIAB, APIB and FEPIPA, comprised of indigenous people who represent their nations and communities’ priorities, and the “indigenista” partner organizations: non-indigenous organizations like TNC dedicated to supporting indigenous peoples and their organizations in a shared agenda. This work between the indigena and indigenista partners is rooted in the implementation of Brazil’s National Policy on Territorial and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI).

TNC plays a pivotal role in helping to facilitate dialogue among diverse actors with strong influence and interest in the landscape.

Established in 2012 by a coalition of 150 indigenous groups, TNC and many important governmental and non-governmental institutions, PNGATI is a keystone for strengthening indigenous-led conservation, natural resource management and environmental restoration in Brazil. It also officially recognizes Indigenous Territorial & Environmental Management Plans (PGTAs).

For example, at the end of the seminar I had the opportunity to travel to Mato Grosso state, where TNC and a local indigenista partner Operação Amazônia Nativa (OPAN), which is dedicated to supporting indigenous leadership and well-being in the region, are partnering with the Paresi people to develop their PGTA. The Paresi’s PGTA will embody an integrated approach to managing and advancing their impressive diversity of sustainable development projects, including agriculture, fisheries and a fast-growing tourism business.

The Paresi’s territories are nestled entirely within the official boundaries of the Amazon but embody a diversity of ecosystems, with the transition from rainforest to savanna apparent in just a few hours’ drive south along their territory. The Paresi Waymaré Association generously received and hosted us and OPAN in visiting many of their project sites and speaking with traditional leaders and members of several villages throughout the territory. The association, traditional leadership and community members agree that the PGTA will help advance these initiatives in a way that is aligned with their overall vision.

Entering the Paresi territory via ferry crossing at the Rio Sacre river. Photo © Helcio Souza/The Nature Conservancy

After a week of successful sessions at the seminar in Pará, the indigenous leaders drafted a plan for collaboration and an agenda of next steps for strengthening indigenous leadership in public policy in Pará. For me, observing Helcio and his team highlighted the importance of TNC’s indigenista role as a partner and trusted convener in this space. TNC plays a pivotal role in helping to facilitate dialogue among diverse actors with strong influence and interest in the landscape, cultivating multi-stakeholder support for indigenous authority and capacity over their territories, which ultimately supports improved ecological and human well-being and mitigates climate change.

I also observed the strong leadership role of the indigena organizations. It was inspiring to see the drive and coordination among the national, regional and state-level indigena organizations leading this seminar and driving progress toward our shared goals. I was struck by the deep interconnectedness between indigenous peoples and the lands, waters and natural resources they have been caring for throughout generations. The partnership initiatives in Brazil embody a lesson that is prevalent throughout the world: Strengthening indigenous peoples’ voice, choice and action in the decisions and management of their territories leads to better, more sustainable outcomes for people and nature.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work with indigenous peoples and local communities around the world.

Originally posted on Global Solutions.