The 19-year-old gave a rousing speech at last week’s climate march in New York, urging people to protect the Amazon rainforest
Last week, millions of people left their schools and workplaces to take part in the largest ever global strike against climate change. With protests in 150 countries, and talks by Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Jaden and Willow Smith, among other youth activists, the worldwide strike marked the beginning of a week-long series of events with the sole intention of bringing international attention to the environmental crisis happening right now.
While we’re all familiar with Thunberg’s impassioned speech at the UN climate summit, the Swedish teen wasn’t the only young activist to make a mark. Closing New York’s record-breaking climate strike, where crowds reached an estimated 60,000 to 250,000, was 19-year-old Artemisa Xakriabá, an indigenous climate activist from São João das Missões in Brazil, whose aim is to stop environmental destruction across Brazil, and especially, the Amazon rainforest.
As the fight against climate crisis gains further momentum, here’s everything you need to know about the indigenous teen fighting for our planet’s future.
WHO IS ARTEMISA XAKRIABÁ?
Artemisa Barbosa Ribeiro is a 19-year-old climate activist known as Artemisa Xakriabá of the Xakriabá tribe, located in São João das Missões in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. A representative of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities for indigenous communities, Ribeiro took part in the first-ever march for indigenous women, held in Brazil earlier this year, which saw tens of thousands of indigenous women take to the streets of Brazil’s capital Brasília for days to denounce president Bolsonaro’s “genocidal” policies relating to the explosion in forest fire occurrences in the Amazon.
Her role in the march resulted in Artemisa travelling to America to attend the climate talks and seek the support of international leaders. On September 20, Artemisa addressed members of the US congress and US House of Representatives leader Nancy Pelosi in Washington, urging senators “to lead the community of nations into caring for our common home”. On the same day, she delivered the closing speech at the climate strike in New York, where she spoke of the man-led environmental destruction of the rainforest, which is directly linked to corporate mining and agriculture.
Currently living in São Paulo with the aim of studying psychology and music at university (she believes these subjects are crucial in helping new generations of indigenous people), Artemisa wants to return to her village after graduation to help future generations, despite the environmental struggles faced by her tribe on a daily basis.
WHAT IS THE XAKRIABÁ TRIBE?
The Xakriabá tribe is one of 13 indigenous groups located in São João das Missões, in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. Since the beginning of president Bolsonaro’s term, which began January 1 this year, the tribe has faced the deforestation of its territories by the government, who are co-opting the land for farming and mining. Currently, the tribe is fighting to expand and recover its demarcated lands.
“It’s a very sad thing to say, because within those eight to nine months of (Bolsonaro’s) term, a lot has changed. He wants to place mining inside the village, within the indigenous territories. They are killing our trees to put mining, putting the part of the economic groups, the politics itself, the agribusiness,” Artemisa explained to congress in Washington.
WHAT DOES ARTEMISA XAKRIABÁ STAND FOR?
Like many indigenous youth in Brazil, Artemisa is protesting against the government’s refusal to take action against the tens of thousands of forest fires spreading across the Amazon rainforest. These fires, which are mainly caused by deforestation linked to corporate agriculture, has increased by a staggering 70 per cent, compared to last year.
Speaking to members of congress, Artemisa said: “Right now, the Amazon, home to (a) million of my relatives, is burning. If it goes on like this, 20 years from now my house will become a desert and my people will be at risk of becoming history.” Addressing the crowd at the climate strike in New York on September 20, she expanded: “The Amazon is on fire. The Amazon agonizes year after year for the responsibility of the government and its destructive policies that intensify deforestation and drought, not only in the Amazon, but in the other five Brazilian biomes. Climate change is a result of this, and it also helps to make the fires stronger. And beyond the Amazon, there are the forests of Indonesia, Africa, North America, whose suffering has such an impact in my life and in your life.”
According to the Guardian, mining companies have denied the Xakriabá tribe access to the river and its water, leading Artemisa to believe that Jaire Bolsnaro’s government plans to “assasinate” indigenous people in the region. “The scarcity of water in the territory is noticeable,” she said. “We need the river and the water for our living and for our spiritual health, our connection to the earth. So access to the river is a big issue for us.” She added: “The governments of Brazil and the United States are not helping. They promote hate-based narratives and a development model that attacks nature and indigenous peoples. These governments are trying to put us in extinction. They are part of the problem.”
In a rousing speech at the climate strike in New York, Artemisa told protesters: “We, the indigenous peoples, are the children of nature, so we fight for our Mother Earth, because the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights. We are fighting for your lives. We are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our sacred territory. But we are being persecuted, threatened, murdered, only for protecting our own territories. We cannot accept one more drop of indigenous blood spilled.”
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The best way to help indigenous tribes in Brazil, Artemisa says, is to no longer purchase products linked to deforestation in the Amazon. “The main thing you can do in the west to help is to stop importing hardwood because that is causing deforestation and exploitation. That is the best way you can help,” she told the Guardian. She has also urged governments to comply with international agreements, and guarantee the territorial rights of indigenous communities.