Maringá, BRAZIL – Pepyaka Krikati is an indigenous environmental activist who has been fighting to protect the Amazon rainforest since childhood.
“I’ve been an activist since I was a kid because of the fighting of my people,” said Krikati, whose surname reflects his Krikati ethnicity.
Krikati was born in an environmental reserve located in the southeast of the Maranhao state in northern Brazil.
“I’ve been trying to open people’s minds to understand why we are fighting for it. We’re not just fighting for our goals, but also for other beings’ protection because it’s also their environment,” he said.
As part of the popular law project called “Amazon Stand Up” (Amazônia de Pé), which collects signatures that will be presented in the National Congress this year, Krikati has been trying to get as many signatures as possible.
“We want to take this project to the Congress to show that it wasn’t something done alone, but with the cooperation of the population,” Krikati said, so that public lands could be distributed to Indigenous and First Nations people who live near the rainforest.
The main goal of this law is to protect the forest from illegal land-grabbing that has been hurting the local community and threatening the Amazon.
Another aim is to distribute unused public lands among indigenous people, the quilombolas, or decendents of former slaves, small farmers and nearby communities.
For Brazilian environmental activists, one of the biggest threats is the increasing influence zone of the big landowners.
The shrinking national budget for land reform makes it even harder for local communities like Krikati’s to have access to the land and to survive.
“Agribusiness is one of the main reasons for the Amazon destruction, since it de-forests vast areas for soy and cow production,” said Krikati. He said it might be necessary to put out the fires that landowners use to clear the forest for crops and cattle.
The fires impact community health, Krikati said, “since it generates greenhouse gasses and soot.”
“Deforestation not only destroys our environment-as it endangers many species and boosts the occurrence of droughts, but also impacts our observation of nature, which is profoundly important to our culture,” said Krikati. “Without it, we remain unsure whether it’s going to rain or not. Also, with more wildfires happening close to our villages, the soot threatens our health, especially because the clinical resources we have here are very limited.”
The situation has become even more difficult since the beginning of 2021, when the program Titula Brasil – which gives municipal governments the authority to grant land titles – was approved by the federal government. Through it, small landowners are under risk of losing their lands to the land grabbers, which could increase conflicts in the countryside and increase land access inequality.
“In our region, we still can talk with the invaders to reach a common deal. But in other places it’s different. There is no peace due to the bloody conflicts,” Krikati said.
Although there are challenges to protecting his culture and rights, Pepyaka is still optimistic.
“You don’t have to be an activist to help. You can spread information about this problem or act as a collaborator. Anyone is capable of making a difference.”
Nicole Luna is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this story.
McKenzie Andersen is a Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International. She made the illustration.