After a long struggle the Deni Indians of the Brazilian Amazon will have their land demarcated by the government and protected from logging.
The Deni Indians live in a remote area of the Amazon rainforest
in Brazil, a community of little more than 600 people. They have
had little contact with the outside world and their way of life -
food, fishing, even religious beliefs - are all intricately linked
to the forest that surrounds them.
But their community was threatened several years ago when a
Malaysian logging company illegally purchased logging rights that
overlapped with the Deni territory. Greenpeace made contact with
the Deni and explained what was happening. Since then the Deni have
been determined to protect their lands and now the government is
marking the boundaries of their territory, legally recognising
their land to keep out invaders and industrial development.
The threat to their lands
In 1999, a Greenpeace investigation uncovered that the Deni
Indian land was under imminent threat from destruction by the
Malaysian logging company, WTK.
intended to start logging in the area to produce plywood. We
discovered that a great part of the land purchased by WTK from the
local Amazon patron Mario Moraes overlapped with the Deni
territory. These indigenous lands had been illegally sold. During
successive expeditions to the remote villages on the Cuniuá and
Xeruã rivers in the south western part of the Brazilian Amazon, we
were able to inform the Deni leaders about the invasion of their
land by the Malaysian logging company.
The Deni were shocked. They had been suffering death and disease
due to contacts with the colonisation fronts over the past 60
years, they could not understand how this latest problem could
You see, the Deni first started the official demarcation process
back in 1985. Demarcation is the constitutional recognition of
their rights over their territory and the only way to guarantee the
protection of the environment they depend on. But by 1999, official
channels had failed the Deni and they asked us to help them fight
for their demarcation.
Taking the process into their own hands
in 2001 Greenpeace returned to the Deni lands with a multi skilled
team of anthropologists, indigenous issues experts, sociologists
and agricultural engineers who worked directly with the Deni
leaders from all eight villages preparing them to take charge of
their demarcation. The Deni learned how to handle surveying
equipment, such as theodolites, compasses and GPS (global satellite
positioning systems), which enabled them to acquire a clear picture
of the borders of their territory.
This so-called "self-demarcation" is not common. Usually the
federal government sends in anthropologists, geographers, and
inspectors who determine the range of an Indian community's lands,
write reports and draw a map, submit their findings to FUNAI (the
federal government agency in charge of indigenous issues in
Brazil), and await the approval of the physical demarcation. Once
approved, FUNAI contracts a company to go to the land and cut a six
metre border through the jungle, marking the outer limits of the
property. The Indians themselves are usually involved only on the
By September 2001 the Deni were ready to start the demarcation
of their own lands.
Volunteers from Greenpeace and Brazilian indigenous
organisations supplied technical and logistical support to the Deni
as they marked their most vulnerable borders, cutting 53 km of
trails through thick jungle, and 218 km along the banks of rivers
and creeks. Along the routes, the Deni posted signs reading "Entry
Prohibited. Deni Land."
A month after the beginning of the self-demarcation project, the
Brazilian Minister of Justice published the Demarcation Decree,
granting constitutional recognition of the Deni rights over their
Victory for the Deni
a long struggle supported by Brazilian organisations including
Greenpeace, the Deni Indians won the right to legally protect their
lands from illegal logging and industrial practices. And now the
Brazilian government is about to finish the demarcation project the
Demarcation of the land will be identified by signs and stones
declaring the area Deni land and by a visible border that will
encompass over 1500 square kilometres of the Amazon. This marks the
area legally as Deni thus protecting it from invaders including
loggers and other industrial development. The process, which has
just begun, is expected to take 80 days.
"We have been working in partnership with the Deni for four
years to protect their land and their traditional lifestyle," said
Nilo D'Avila, Greenpeace Amazon campaigner, who was in the Deni
area following the beginning of the official demarcation process.
"We are convinced that the preservation of the Amazon biodiversity,
which is threatened by economic interests and by an unsustainable
pattern of consumption, will only be guaranteed if it is done in
partnership with the people who take care of the Amazon forest as
If all the indigenous lands in the Brazilian Amazon were
demarcated, almost 20 percent of the forest area would be under
legal protection. "The Deni demarcation is an historical step for
all those who fight to reverse the trend of destruction of the
natural heritage through working with traditional communities and
the enforcement of law," said Nilo.
More to come
July we will travel back to the Deni territory to witness the
completion of the Deni demarcation and celebrate this incredible
victory with them. Join us then for updates, images and stories
from the Deni land to celebrate their achievement and take action
for the protection of the Amazon.
The story in pictures
View the Deni slide show to see images from their remote
territory in the Amazon and witness their incredible struggle.