In the Brazilian Amazon, near the XINGU RIVER, a sign proclaims a NEW MEKRAGNOTY Indigenous territory with “access forbidden to outsiders”. It ends with words “DEMARCATION FINANCED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY OF THE RAINFOREST FOUNDATION INTERNATIONAL”. It was the first major achievement in 1993 of the then called Rainforest Foundation International, which has become RAINFOREST FUND in 1995. It was an international partnership with indigenous leaders from the rainforest built on the understanding that destruction of the rainforest threatens us all. They were fighting for their land, their culture and their survival. They sought an alliance with people around the world and Sting first listened to them. It was the beginning of this great adventure which sees us still on the scene with the determination to fulfill our commitment to the indigenous communities of the world rainforests.
Our goal since the beginning has been to support indigenous people of the rainforests of the world in their efforts to defend their rights, culture and lands and to assist them in their quest for justice, respect of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. They were seeking not protection but the power to determine and ensure their future.
Our determination to contribute to this battle for survival of the indigenous cultures has brought some positive results along the years, official recognition of indigenous land, consolidation of rights in national constitutions, and a growing participation of indigenous leaders in discussions regarding policies and international treaties.
As we reflect on our work during all these years, we can acknowledge that we have contributed to the emergence of a strong indigenous leadership to interface with the modern world by ensuring external support and solidarity.
All the projects we have undertaken and supported in the field of land, human, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights have strengthened the communities and given them the tools to advocate for their rights. But whatever success we achieve is in large measure the success of those indigenous communities who are at the forefront of the struggle to protect their lands their environment and their rights.
Fighting for indigenous rights often includes affecting the way that indigenous people are perceived both under the law and in reality. When called upon we support indigenous peoples as well as tribal populations throughout the world’s rainforests, to acquire not only rights to their land but to demand that their integrity and dignity are upheld and that they are respected as human beings.
This is an issue which in recent years has become very serious as Indigenous rights defenders are subjected to violent attacks and threats, enforced disappearances, killings, illegal surveillance. 281 of them were killed in 2016/2017 and already many in 2018 always in cases related to the protection of their lands against invasion from Corporate actors with Government approval.
Their protection is lacking and ineffective and the perpetrators of these crimes act with impunity.
This is an issue Rainforest Fund has taken up in recent years by supporting the creation of Indigenous Rights defenders in Ecuador and Brazil who by learning from the field the laws governing the indigenous territories can act quickly and protect their lands and communities.
As an organization from the developed world, we have always kept in mind that our role as partners is to support the indigenous peoples, without imposing ourselves or our views upon them but respecting their legitimate leadership and give them the help they ask for.
This is what International solidarity means and comes into play on the tested truth that only together can we win the fight for the future of our planet and the survival of the rainforests and its inhabitants but also of our children and grandchildren.
Dr Franca Sciuto