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Inuit express solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Amazon as Brazil fires rage

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This article was first published by APTN News Canada. It has been republished with permission.

Justin Brake


Inuit leaders across the north are showing their support for Indigenous peoples in the Amazon threatened by the ongoing forest fires.

Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Chair Dalee Sambo Dorough and ICC Canada President Monica Ell-Kanayuk expressed their concern in a public statement of solidarity from the organization, which promotes the unity, rights and way of life of more than 160,000 Inuit in Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Russia.

"We are very concerned about the reports we are hearing from Indigenous leaders in Brazil regarding the government of Jair Boldonaro," said Dorough.

"It's unconscionable to hear that his government has unleashed an assault on Indigenous peoples by turning a blind eye, allowing farmers, ranchers, and miners to exploit deep into the Amazon rainforest â€" their homelands. Many are uncontacted tribes that have no firefighters, no means to put out these devastating fires."

The far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro has come under global scrutiny as reports continue to emerge from the Amazon region of forest fires started by private interests linked to the mining, logging and agriculture industries.

Around one million Indigenous people from 300 Indigenous tribes live in the Amazon basin and have protected the area for millennia. The Amazon is regarded by scientists as a crucial 'carbon sink' that absorbs roughly a quarter of the world's carbon taken up by forests, which makes it a critical piece of the fight to limit the impacts of climate change.

Those impacts are already been felt in a big way in the Arctic, the ICC notes in its news release this week.

"Transformation of the Arctic landscape, and of Inuit lives and livelihoods that are intricately tied to this landscape, will only be accelerated and further devastated by the raging forest fires in the Amazon that are raising global temperatures and fueling further melting of sea ice and glaciers," said ICC Canada President Monica Ell-Kanayuk. "What happens in one part of the planet has impact on us all."

According to INPE, the Brazilian space agency, around 1,145 square kilometres of the Amazon have been deforested in August, the most of any month in the past five years. The INPE also says there have been more than 85,000 forest fires in Brazil so far in 2019, up more than 75 per cent from the same time last year.

The fires have been met with protests in the streets of Brazil's capital city, Brasilia, and have sparked international outrage.

In Canada, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to suspend free trade negotiations with Brazil to put pressure on the Bolsonaro government.

"The Amazon rainforest is burning, and that's not a crisis only for Brazil, it's a crisis for humankind and for our planet," he said.

"Once again, Justin Trudeau is putting the interest of rich corporations ahead of the fight against climate change by continuing free trade negotiations with President Bolsonaro."

Meanwhile, Green Party International Affairs Critic Annamie Pail said in a statement this week that while the party "recognizes that Canada is a trading nation and trade is a vital part of our economy... Canadian core values are not for sale and should never be bargained away. Canada's trade agreements must always reflect the highest ethical, environmental and labour standards."

While countries like Ireland and France are applying diplomatic pressure through free trade negotiations, Trudeau has thus far refused to take that route.

Brazil is a Canada's largest trading partner in Latin America. In 2018 Canada's imports from Brazil totalled almost $5.5 billion, while exports totalled almost $2.2 billion. Canada's imported goods from Brazil include mining and agricultural products.

Dorough told APTN News Friday that Canada, the United States and other G7 countries need to protect Indigenous rights and address the climate crisis.

These countries "have an obligation to be responsive to those that are in the most inequitable conditions and status in the world, not to mention the obligations that they voluntarily engaged in in the Paris agreement," she said.

Ell-Kanayuk said in the ICC release that with the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York coming up in September, and the annual UN climate summit in Chile just a few months away, "there is no better time, indeed no more urgent time, to raise ambition and increase climate action internationally.

"We recognize our critical part as Inuit, alongside our Indigenous brothers and sisters, and we call on governments to support Indigenous Peoples and to respond as an emergency like this requires."

On Thursday Amazon Watch Advocacy Director told APTN that his organization is "hearing a lot from Indigenous peoples about how their lands are under assault, their territories are under assault," and that groups with minimal or no access to media â€" including uncontacted tribes â€" "might be getting wiped out as we speak and no one even knows."

Miller said Canadians wanting to support Indigenous peoples in the Amazon while joining the fight against climate change should demand the Liberals halt free trade negotiations with the Bolsonaro government.

"It's important, I would say, for Canadian citizens to say to your representatives: No free trade agreements with Jair Bolsonaro. That will simply increase investments, and his vision for investments is to invest in the Amazon and destroy rainforests in the process."

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