“If our lands disappear, we disappear with them”, warns model and Amazonian activist Zaya Guarani

The young woman answered questions from franceinfo on the occasion of the ChangeNow summit, which is held in Paris from Thursday to Saturday.

Save the forest, save the world. For Amazonian activist Zaya Guarani, this is one fight. A defender of the rights of indigenous communities, but also a spokesperson for a new generation of women who have risen to the forefront of the fight against the destruction of the environment, the 22-year-old model puts her notoriety at the service of a cause that imposes: teach the rest of the world to respect nature in order to respect themselves.

On the occasion of the ChangeNow summit, which is being held in Paris from Thursday May 25 to Saturday May 27, Zaya Guarani explains to franceinfo why, in the light of global warming, it is not up to the city to educate the forest, but quite the reverse.

Franceinfo: How did you become an activist?

Zaya Guarani: When I was 15, I went to study in Rio de Janeiro. I was part of a quota of native students. When I arrived there, with my face paints and all my traditional culture, I understood that, for us, the indigenous peoples, our simple presence in this space, our simple body, is a militant act. Therefore, everything I do there is important for my people, because these spaces have long been forbidden to us because of racism and discrimination. This experience completely changed my life. It’s as if I had started walking.

It is about claiming the right to take part in discussions and decisions which, until now, have always been made without our voices. This is all the more true for girls, who bear the brunt of machismo and who are left with no choice. So I hope to pave the way for them and encourage girls from indigenous communities to come to town to study and speak out.

Do you consider yourself, in a way, as an influencer for the younger generations?

I do not consider myself an influencer, but rather a spokesperson. I try to do it my way, but what matters is that the natives are included in the conversations and reclaim their voice. I am going to speak here, in Paris, on a stage, to describe the damage that our lands are suffering, in Brazil. It is not for a renowned white European academic to do so.

What destruction have you witnessed back home in the Amazon?

Until a few months ago, I was not able to express myself on these subjects without being overwhelmed by emotions. I grew up in very difficult conditions and since my birth I have known only survival and flight. In the Amazon, farmers and loggers abuse women from indigenous communities. They ask the chiefs to marry a young girl they have noticed and take her away from his people. My mother fled this macho violence to go to a city, but it exposed her to so much violence. Leaving was heartbreaking.

“We went hungry because the water in the river was poisoned, the trees got sick and didn’t produce enough to feed us. The city encroached more and more on the forest every day.”

Even tiny towns appear and destroy the forest in which we have always lived. So many sectors benefit from the destruction of the Amazon and deforestation… The leather that you find on car seats, it comes from there. When the trees are cut down and what remains of the trunk is dry, it is set on fire. Meanwhile, the wood is used by another industry. The earth is poisoned to prevent other trees from growing back, to make way for fields or meadows for the herds used in the meat industry. Without changing our perspective on these industries and their practices that destroy the environment, we don’t even have ten years before us before there is nothing left.

How do you find the courage to face such a powerful enemy?

We are fighting against a system that pollutes, wastes and destroys. This is happening at home, but also elsewhere in the world. There is no more room to receive waste from cities and industries. They must stop producing incessantly to push to consume always more of what we do not need, to the detriment of nature. It is a very difficult fight because we have no right to our own lands, although they are the lands of our ancestors and we have a spiritual connection with them. This forest is home to our wisdom, our roots and our future.

“We want to recover the rights we have to our lands so that future generations can grow up there without having to fight every day for their survival, without being afraid of what could happen tomorrow.”

If our lands disappear, we disappear with them. We fight so hard because our lives depend on it. But that of the rest of the world too. Ecosystems, life, living beings… You are living beings too. We have a unique relationship with nature, we are part of it. We have always lived in harmony with the forest. The trees there would not be there without the indigenous peoples who are their guardians. It’s not just about protecting our communities, it’s about saving the planet. We have lived so long in harmony with nature, benefiting from these resources in a sustainable way. We never needed cities. To fight against climate change, we must come together and share our culture and our knowledge with others, because it is now up to the world to draw inspiration from it.

How to attract the attention of Westerners when the consequences of our lifestyles, which you suffer, manifest themselves so far from our daily lives?

When I talk about these subjects to Westerners, I always try to bring something positive. I do not come here to accuse people and I thank them for giving me the opportunity to tell them what we are going through. Many of our elders consider that the white people have inflicted too much pain on them and that they are therefore evil. But others, like me, think on the contrary that Westerners can make things happen. Colonization and its consequences have done so much harm… But today’s generations can repair this damage and I come here with an open heart and arms.

I carry a universal message. To reach people, I simply ask them if they want their children to grow up on a healthy planet, enjoying clean air and water and blue skies. If we don’t act now, it won’t be possible. Everyone finds themselves in this message.

“We all have an interest in holding industries to account so that they stop poisoning our planet, overproducing, overconsuming.”

Western societies separate man from nature. However, by reconnecting with oneself, by getting rid of one’s ego and the materialism of the city, it is surprising how easy it is to see nature differently. Contact with nature is contact with one’s own humanity and one’s own dreams. What do we all want? Nobody wants to die tomorrow. Everyone dreams of a prosperous future. So we have to get back to dreaming of a better future and give ourselves the means to achieve it.

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