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Amazon wildfires part of 'genocide' facing Brazil's Indigenous peoples, advocate says

Calls for Canada to pressure Brazil on Indigenous rights

Fire consumes an area near Porto Velho, Brazil on Friday. Brazilian state experts have reported a record of nearly 77,000 wildfires across the country so far this year. Brazil contains about 60 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, whose degradation could have severe consequences for global climate and rainfall. (Victor R. Caivano/The Associated Press)

The Brazilian government's push to escalate agricultural and mining developments in the Amazon at the expense of Indigenous rights actively brought about the ongoing wildfire crisis, Indigenous advocates say.

There are currently over 75,000 wildfires burning in the rainforest throughout the country — an 80 per cent increase over last year, according to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Rayanne Cristine Máximo França, a member of the Baré Indigneous people from the Amazonas state in Brazil's northwest, said the government of Jair Bolsonaro has unleashed an assault on Indigenous people and their lands by emboldening farmers, ranchers and miners to carve deeper into the Amazon rainforest.

Environmentalists have also blamed deforestation for an increase in this year's fires.

Máximo França, 27, said there has further been a rise in the displacement of Indigenous people from these lands — one that she said often comes with violent death.

"We are facing a process of genocide with this government, also a process of ecocide," she said in a telephone interview from the capital of Brasilia.

"They are killing us every day; they are killing us with the fire that is happening, they are killing us when they displace us from our territories, when they invade our territories."

Rayanne Cristine Máximo França, 27, is a member of the Baré Indigneous people from the Amazonas state in Brazil’s northwest. She said the Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro has unleashed an assault on the country's Indigenous people and lands. (Submitted by Rayanne Cristine Máximo França)

In a tweet Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron called the ongoing Amazon wildfires an "international crisis." Macron said he wanted to discuss the "emergency" during the G7 meeting he is hosting this weekend in Biarritz, France.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted in support of Macron's call.

There is a direct link with the wildfires engulfing the Amazon and the increased deforestation, Máximo França said, referring to local news reports from earlier this month that said farmers and ranchers in the state of Pará reportedly announced a "Day of Fire" this month to clear out rainforest land for development.

"They started making fires in the territories to send a message," she said.

One newspaper also reported that the majority of wildfires were on rainforest lands that had been cleared by ranchers and farmers for agricultural use.

Amnesty International calls for Indigenous rights protection

Brazil's president has been vocal about his disdain for environmental protections and Indigenous territories in the Amazon, seeing them as an obstacle to economic development.

"Where there is Indigenous land, there is wealth beneath it," said Bolsonaro in 2017, according to a report in the Brazilian newspaper O Estado. "We have to change that."

While Indigenous territories are protected under Brazilian law and its constitution recognizes an Indigenous right to land, the Bolsonaro government has weakened protections and turned a blind eye to illegal logging. This has led to increased incursions by illegal loggers and increases in illegal land seizures in Indigenous territories.

Amnesty International recently released a report that said the protection of Indigenous rights is "key to preventing further deforestation in the Amazon." The report also said the "risk of bloodshed" in the Amazon was rising, unless the Brazilian government reversed its current position and began protecting Indigenous lands.

"Since early this year, there has been a surge in the invasion of Indigenous territories," said João Ghilherme Delgado Bieber, a consultant with Amnesty International, in a text conversation with CBC News.

He was recently in Rondônia state, which is the site of wildfires.

"The deforestation has increased inside these protected areas and Indigenous leaders are threatened for defending their territories," he said. "The fires, including inside Indigenous territories, further destroy the Amazon."

Canada asked to pressure Brazil on Indigenous rights

Gilberto Vieira dos Santos, a spokesperson for the Brasilia-based Indigenous Missionary Council, said the elements behind the increased invasion and attacks on Indigenous lands are also behind the burning of cleared-out rainforest being blamed for the rash of wildfires.

"The situation of the fires in the Amazon is in the same context," he said in a telephone interview.

Some have accused Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro of seeing Indigenous territories as obstacles to economic development. (Getty Images)

Vieira dos Santos said countries like Canada, which tout the importance of Indigenous rights, have a duty to press Brazil to change its current trajectory. He also suggested such countries should impose a moratorium on importing Brazilian commodities that affect the Indigenous population in the country.

"The position of the Canadian government is very important," he said. "Maybe it's the only real pressure that can have an impact on the situation in the country.

"We believe the government of Canada, with its history and relationship with Indigenous peoples in its country, has position and influence with Brazil and other countries."

Máximo França said she would also like to see pressure on Brazil from Canada to end the assault on Indigenous people in the Amazon, which she said has a direct impact on the environment.

The very survival of her people is at stake, she said. "If we don't have land … we don't have life."

© August 2019 CBC News. All Rights Reserved.

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