Greenpeace volunteer with Deni children. The Brazilian indigenous peoples, the Deni, celebrate the completion of the demarcation of their land after more than 18 years of campaigning.
Those who helped the Deni in fighting to protect their
territory--including activists from Greenpeace, the Missionary
Indigenous Council (CIMI), and Native Amazon Operation
(OPAN)--joined Brazilian authorities and journalists from around
the world in the victory party. Organized by the Deni's patarahu
(chiefs), the ceremony featured traditional songs and dance on the
banks of the Xeruã River, in the village of Boiador.
The Deni demarcation will create an "ethno-environmental"
corridor of more than 3,600,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest,
linking eight indigenous lands. This corridor will ensure the
exclusive use of forest resources by more than 2,400 individuals,
including the Hi-mariman--an indigenous group numbering less than
200, who have had no contact with non-indigenous peoples.
Demarcating indigenous lands is an efficient method of
protecting the Amazon rainforest, which is under threat from
thousands of logging companies. The majority of these companies use
illegal and predatory tactics like fires, cattle ranching and
projects that ultimately open the heart of the Amazon to
destruction. Satellite images of the Brazilian Amazon revealed
increased deforestation. The Brazilian Government estimated that
between August 2001 and August 2002, the equivalent of five million
football fields were destroyed. This represented an increase of 40
percent in deforested areas in only one year, but it also revealed
that indigenous lands were currently spared from this
After four years of working with the Deni to win the rights to
their land, we are convinced that the preservation of the Amazon
biodiversity, which is threatened by economic interests and 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 their homeland.
History of Deni Demarcation
Since 1999, we have campaigned for the demarcation of the Deni
land, an area of 1,530,000 hectares located in the valley between
the Purus and Juruá rivers. At that time, we were investigating the
purchase of 313,000 hectares of forest by the Malaysian logging
giant WTK, who intended to explore the region to find timber to
produce plywood for exports. WTK has a poor track record of
disrespecting the law and indigenous people's rights. During field
investigations, we discovered that half of the lands purchased by
WTK--150,000 hectares--overlapped the Deni territory.
The Deni had begun their demarcation through official channels
in 1985, but the process proved extremely slow. Now aware of the
threat from WTK, they asked Greenpeace to assist in protecting
their traditional land. At first, they tried to accelerate the
official process of identification of the Deni boundaries in order
to have their land demarcated by 2001. This process failed after
becoming tied up in bureaucratic red tape, so the Deni chose to
self-demarcate their land with our help.
"We will never leave our land," said Kubuvi Deni, one of the
leaders. "We need this land to survive. We need to hunt and fish to
have food. To do that, we need a lot of space."
Following the determination of the Deni, we contacted CIMI and
OPAN--two Brazilian organizations with expertise in working with
indigenous people in the Amazon--and, together, they developed a
project to teach the Deni the necessary skills to recognize the
borders of their land and take charge of the demarcation process.
According to Ivar Busatto, from OPAN, "the fact that we were asked
to help out other groups and to enter into a fight to give the Deni
the recognition and rights they deserve, was extremely
In September 2001, the Deni began to self-demarcate their
territory. The process included opening visible trails in the
forest and placing signs to identify the indigenous land.
Greenpeace sent 13 volunteers to the region and a helicopter to
support the work. For over a month, the group worked under harsh
conditions in the forest, until the Brazilian Ministry of Justice
ordered the self-demarcation to stop and the non-governmental
organisations to leave the area. The Deni refused to stop, and
eventually after negotiation, their efforts were recognized. In
October 2001, the Minister of Justice at that time, Jose Gregori,
signed the Declaratory Act recognizing the rights and exclusive use
of these lands for the Deni. In May 2003, the official demarcation
finally started and the process has now been completed.
The Deni fight for the demarcation of their land is an example
of determination of an indigenous people who took matters into
their own hands. It is a live testimony in defense of keeping the
Amazon resources in the hands of those who can better protect them:
the traditional populations who live in the forest. It is something
that deserves to be celebrated.