“They [the ranchers] think the solution is to bury us, but they didn’t realize that we are seeds”.


Portraits of resistance beyond the trees
[Long term project / work in progress]

In 2018, the year I began this photographic project, a report established that during 2017, at least 201 land and environmental defenders worldwide lost their lives while protecting their communities and regions from the ravages of mining, agribusiness, logging and other environmentally devastating industries. According to the human rights and environmental organization Global Witness, the majority of the deaths were in Latin America, where 57 defenders perished in Brazil alone, 80 percent of them killed while defending a part of the Amazon rainforest.

Despite this alarming situation, the traditional communities of Latin America are undaunted and continue to protect their territory against development projects that exploit a region’s natural resources without consideration for its history or culture. Traditional populations, bound to the sacred land where generations of their ancestors lived and are buried, refuse to abandon it, even after it has been largely destroyed. This photo essay seeks to illuminate the powerful connection between land defenders and the territories they so fiercely champion.

Betikre bla bla vlasb
Betikre is one of the defenders of the Xingú Indigenous Land, an Indigenous demarcated land, which is still threatened by the expansion of agro-industrial activities around it. Betikre, among with other Indigenous fellows, patrol their land in search of ilegal loggers, miners and land grabbers and to report them, they use western technology as phones with dedicated apps and GPS equipment. Left: Betikre Tapayuna Metuktire, laying on his territory, in the center of the Kapoto village, located in the Xingu Indigenous Land, where he lives. Right: Aerial view of the Kapoto village with its typical circular shape, the gathering house in the center and the family houses around it. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga. 

Julián is an indigenous man from the Achuar Nation of Ecuador. He fights collectively to protect his community of the consequences of a new road entering the Achuar territory, among other threats such as deforestation, which is already affecting his fellow indigenous Shuar neighbors. Right: Julian lying down on his sacred indigenous land. Left: An aerial view of the new road entering the Achuar territory. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Miguelina is a Gunadule Indigneous elder and grandmother who lives close to the border of Colombia and Panama. Many years ago, the promise of development through growing banana landed in their lands turning them into extensive monoculture. The rich and diverse lands in which she was raised, are now restricted to her front and backyard, where she still look after her plants. Left: The territory of the Gunadule Indigenous people in the lower part of the Ibgigundiwala reservation, New Cayman, covered by banana monoculture. Right: Miguelina is lying down on her land that has lost fertility over the years. Dressing the molas, a cloth handmade by the Gunadule women to represent their worldview, Miguelina is a symbol of peaceful resistance. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Paola is an Indigenous woman from the Wayuu people, who was born in the Wayuu lands that today are known as Venezuela. Border takes no part in the Wayuu culture and ‘border’ does not even exist as a word in their language. Due to the Venezuelan crisis, they were forced to leave their ancestral lands, where her mother’s tomb still remain. Paola, along with 12 other clans, were given a parcel of land on the Colombian side of the Wayuu territory. Her grand mother refused to leave. To visit their ancestral land, where her grand mother still lives, they have to cross the border and to do this, they take secondary ways that they call trochas, to avoid migration controls. Left: Paola lying on the cemetery of her family, where her mom still rest, over a traditional Wayuu kint made by the Wayuu women. Right: An aerial view of Paola’s village in Venezuela, and the paths they walk by to cross the border and get to their lands. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

José Gregorio is the leader of the Amazon Indigenous Guard, in the Colombian Amazon forest. He leads a group of young volunteer men and women who fight to prevent the exploitation of their natural resources to keep their forest alive. Right: José Gregorio lying down on his rainforest. Left: The community next to the Amacayacu river where José Gregorio and the guardians live. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga

Ednei is a young Arapiun indigenous leader who has recently joined the land guard team at the Indigenous Territory of Maró (TI Maró) in the Maró River, deep inside the Brazilian Amazon. They carry out regular surveillance beats across the rainforest, watching for illegal loggers and poachers stealing from their sacred land. TI Maró covers some 42,000 hectares of untouched, pristine rainforest. Since their territory was officially recognized, they have been keeping a close watch. Right: 26 huge precious logs captured by the TI Maró team in one of their beats, now lying by the road track. Measuring 1 to 2 meters in diameter, the 26 logs rot to fertilize the land. Left: Ednei is portrayed lying on the road tracks left by logger trucks driving close to the borders of the Indigenous Maró Territory. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Nantu is an Indigenous man from the Achuar Nation of Ecuador who leads a project of solar-powered boats for collective transport. Supported by the Kara Solar team of engineers, Nantu and his Indigenous colleagues, are working to decrease the Achuar’s dependence on petrol. Left: On his land, Nantu is lying down dressed with traditional Achuar clothing, over one of the most coveted palm leaves that the Achuar people use to build their houses’ roof. Right: the pristine rainforest from the Achuar territory that Nantu and his community wants to protect.Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Tupi is a mother and a warrior of the Tupinambá people of the lower Tapajós river, in Brazil. Tupi  collaborates with various indigenous collectives in the areas of communication and arts. She's also a member of As Karuna, an Indigenous group composed entirely by women of the Tapajós river singing in defense of the water and forests. Through different mediums, Tupi fights for the rights of the Indigenous women. She has turned her own story into a strong fuel to feed her fight against gender violence. Right: Tupi lying on her ancestral Tupinambá territory, in the São Francisco village. Left: Tupi's back painted to represent strength, and composing the territory that she defends, which is her own body and the body of Indigenous women. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Drica was the first woman to have been elected as Quilombola Territory Coordinator, representing five communities in the Trombetas river, in the Brazilian Amazon. The first challenge these communities face is loggers eager to strike deals with the community. A second challenge is a Bauxite mine down the river: it has been building dams which are putting the entire Trombetas River at risk. But for Drica, the greatest challenge of all is a huge hydroelectric dam project which will probably be green-lighted by the government and which will not only destroy the river environment but also displace the communities from their homeland. Right: Drica lying down on her ancestral land. Left: Aerial view of the Rio Norte Bauxite Mine next to Drica’s territory. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

José is one of the leaders of the Achuar indigenous people in the Sharamentsa community. He defends his rainforest by generating projects in collaboration with external organizations. One of them aims to create an indigenous group to monitor their territory from the ground and also by using aerial technology such as drones. Right: José lying down on his yard over a banana leaf, dressing his traditional Achuar clothing. Left: The Achuar rainforest at the back of José’s house. Sharamentsa, Pastaza, Ecuador. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Cindy works with children to create awareness about human trafficking, which is a big issue in the borders, specially for indigenous children and women. Her territory of struggle is also the indigenous bodies. Left: Encounter of the Amazon and Loretoyaco rivers, in the municipality of Puerto Nariño (Colombia), on the border with Peru. Right: Cindy Ünãgükü Taüchina floating in the waters of the Loretoyaco River. For her, the Amazon River is the origin of the Tikuna indigenous people. She thinks the river unites the three borders of Colombia, Brazil and Peru, that politically divided the Tikuna territory. 

Davi Kopenawa is one of the most relevant indigenous leaders in Brazil. He is belongs the Yanomami people, and lives in the rainforest in the Yanomami Indigenous Land. He is an author and a philosopher who has been struggling to make his knowledge to reach all non-indigenous people all over the world. He claims his people is responsible for holding the sky and keep the earth in balance. Without them –he warns– the world, guided by greed and overconsumption, could soon reach the end. Right: Davi Yanomami lying over the green grass in Roraima. He says that the earth is our mother and is holding us on her chest. Left: The Indigenous Yanomami demini community, wher Davi and his wife live and the land that Davi struggles to protect. The Yanomami land is one of the most affected by illegal gold mining. It is believed that there are more than 40,000 invaders extracting gold from the indigenous lands. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Joane is a riverine woman who leads a group of youngsters in defending the rainforest from plastic contamination in her village, Suruacá, in the Lower Brazilian Amazon. Plastic pollution gets to Suruacá through different means: the packaging of food and beverages they buy to complement their traditional food chain, waste thrown from from the emerging tourist resort across the river. As waste management is nonexistent, Suruacá villagers burn plastic waste on a daily basis. Joane is asking authorities to implement a waste collection system and promotes recycling in her village using organic waste to produce natural gas and compost to fertilize their orchards. Right: Joane lying on the sand, by the Tapajos River shore. Left: Plastic waste reaches the river beach, close to Suruacá village. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Larissa is a Borari indigenous woman and a young mother which is part of Suraras de Tapajós, a group of indigenous women who live in Alter do Chão, a small town on the Tapajos river which is conceived by them as their indigenous village, even after becoming in an highly touristic destination. They protect their village from pollution as well as from real state projects who want to establish by the river. Right: Larrissa floating on the Tapajós river in Alter do Chão. Left: The many boats that offer transport to tourists in Alter do Chão. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Daniela is an LGBT activist from the Prainha II community, on the Tapajós river who fights for her LGBT recognition and also to defend their territroy from agri-business expansion. The natural reserve where she lives is surrounded by soybean fields. Left: One of the soybean fields next to Daniela’s territory. Middle: Dani laying on her territory. fields. Right: The limit between the rainforest where Daniela lives and the soybean fields that reach the horizon. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Verónica is an indigenous woman from the Achuar Nation of Ecuador. To many Achuar women, giving birth is a rather taboo matter. When it is time to deliver the newborn baby, mothers leave their homes and give birth by themselves in the rainforest. Things don’t always go well and many women may lose their lives in the process. Verónica is part of a project of pregnancy health care that supports women during the pregnancy period and afterwards. She uses modern medical instruments to do her work, in addition to medicinal Achuar plants traditionally used for the care of mothers and their children. Left: Vero lying on her sacred Achuar territory. Right: Verónica’s garden in the rainforest, where many of her ancestral medicinal plants are grown. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Daniela is a strong woman who still resists and struggles against to transform Altamira, her home city, into a better place for the comming generations. She and many others lost their homes to the construction of one of the biggest hydroelectric power dams in the world. With the arrival of this large project, Altamira, the city where Daniela lives has become one of the most violent cities in Brazil. Left: Dead trees after the flooding of the Xingu River by the construction of the Belo Monte dam dry up and rot in the water, turning the river into a hostile environment not only for fish, due to toxicity, but also for the people who navigate there. Right: Daniela Silva poses for a portrait lying down on the place where her house used to stand, in the baixões de Altamira. According to Daniela, the families were removed from there because the place would be flooded, but that is not the case. Today it is an inhospitable square. Photo-Composition: Pablo Albarenga.

Hamangaí is an Indigenous Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe who fights gender violence. Violence against women is not originally from the Indigenous culture. Instead, it is a heritage from the colonization processes that still affects the indigenous communities, she says.   Right: Hamangaí, lying on her territory. Hamangaí is an indigenous activist who fights against gender violence and seeks to highlight the value of women in the communities. Hamangaí has turned her own experiences as well as those of her sister, Itocovouty Galache Melo, into the fuel that feeds her struggle. Left: Aerial view of the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe Caramuru community. Photo-composition: Pablo Albarenga

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