The indigenous community celebrates the completion of land demarcation in the Brazilian Amazon

Feature story - August 6, 2003
The Brazilian indigenous peoples, the Deni, today celebrated the completion of the demarcation of their land with traditional songs and dance after more than 18 years of campaigning. The ceremony, organized by the Deni's patarahu (chiefs), took place in the Boiador Village, located on the banks of the Xeruã River, in the Southeast of the Brazilian State of Amazonas. Greenpeace, CIMI and OPAN (1) representatives, who helped the Deni in their fight to protect of their traditional territory, as well as Brazilian authorities, special guests and journalists from around the world attended the ceremony.

The Deni land demarcation will create an "ethno-environmental" corridor of more than 3,600,000 hectares of Amazon rainforest, linking eight indigenous lands. This corridor, which has not been studied scientifically, will ensure the exclusive use of forest resources by populations of 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.

The demarcation of indigenous lands is an efficient method of protecting the Amazon rainforest, which is under threat from thousands of logging companies. The great majority of these companies operate in an illegal and predatory manner: fires; progress in agriculture and 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 pitches were destroyed. This represented an increase of 40% in deforested areas in only one year, but it also revealed that indigenous lands were currently spared from this destruction (2).

"The demarcation of the Deni land is a historical step for all those who fight to reverse the trend of ancient forest destruction around the world; through the work with traditional communities, the establishment of protected areas and by the enforcement of law", said Nilo D'Avila, Greenpeace Amazon Campaigner. "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."

Since 1999, Greenpeace has 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, Greenpeace was 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 Peoples' rights in countries where the company is active. During field investigations, Greenpeace 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. However, this process failed after becoming tied up in 'red tape', so the Deni chose to self-demarcate their land with help from Greenpeace.

"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, Greenpeace 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 important".

In September 2001, the Deni began to self-demarcate their territory. Greenpeace sent 13 volunteers to the region and a helicopter to support the work (3). 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. However, the Deni refused to stop, and eventually after negotiation, the 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 (4).

"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", said Paulo Adário, Greenpeace Amazon Campaign Coordinator. "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."

Notes to the editor:

1. CIMI: Missionary Indigenous Council (; OPAN: Native Amazon Operation ( - both Brazilian organizations have a lot of experience working with Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon.

2. According to INPE (National Institute of Space Research), e Amazon destruction in 2002 reached the unacceptable rate of 25,460 square kilometers, the second largest rate in history.

3. The 13 Greenpeace volunteers who took part on the Deni land self-demarcation project are from Brazil, Chile, the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Germany, Austria, the U.S. and China.

4. The SETAG company, employed by FUNAI (Brazilian Governmental Agency in charge of Indigenous issues) and responsible the physical demarcation of the Deni land, began its work in May 2003. The process included opening visible trails in the forest and placing signs to identify the indigenous land. The demarcation was funded by PPG7 resources (the pilot program of the 7 richest countries in the world for the Amazon protection) and by Brazilian government.