Klamath River Indigenous Youth and River Activists Bring a Message from the Amazon

by Team Klamazon / Intercontinental Cry

Photo:  Belo Monte Resistance Delegation

Photo: Belo Monte Resistance Delegation

After eleven productive days in Brazil, the group of seven, calling themselves “Team Klamazon” returned to California with an in-depth understanding of the potential impact of Brazil’s plans to develop the Amazon, and in particularly the Belo Monte Dam project. The team, comprised of river activists and indigenous youth from the Klamath River in Northern California and Southern Oregon, agree that it was one of the most enlightening experiences of their lives. They also commented that this feeling of enlightenment was mutual among the indigenous people of Kayapo-Xikrin Tribe with whom they stayed. They traveled to Poti-Krô village where they spoke through triple translation (Xikrin-Portuguese- English) with the help of their guide, Maira Irigaray, Amazon Watch’s Brazil Program Coordinator. Team Klamazon also chartered a plane to film aerial footage of the construction of the destructive dam, then held a press conference for the Brazilian media telling stories of the campaign to remove the Klamath Dams, educate Brazil about the socioeconomic and environmental perils of damming rivers, and share their experiences in the Amazon. The Xikrin villagers at Poti Kro stated “We did not know there were any indigenous left in North America. We saw a movie once, a western; in it you were all being killed. It brings us hope to see you here now standing in front of us.”

In the words of Yurok Tribe and Team member Samuel Gensaw III,

“I was born in the struggle, raised in the resistance, I was taught what was right so I know what is wrong. I believe we are in a revolutionary era. No longer will location, language or government segregate us, but let the pain of believing we are alone be soothed by the knowledge that in solidarity we will stand…first village by village, then tribe by tribe, and finally nation by nation.”

After traveling from Rio de Janeiro to a small Amazon Basin town called Altamira, followed by a day long boat ride up the Xingu and Bacaja Rivers, the team arrived at Poti-Krô Village, where they stayed for three days. According to Gensaw

“Interactions that took place in the village of Poti-Krô were profound. These people are facing a monster, the Belo Monte Dam. If construction of Belo Monte Dam continues, we fear for the lives of the, Xikrin, Kayapó, Juruna and Arara Tribes. Not only are indigenous people being affected, but the entire region. The environment and inhabitants are being destroyed by this shortsighted venture. Already, we see deforestation, pollution and mining corporations like the Canadian company Belo Sun moving in. As workers from other areas inundate the area for the short lived jobs offered by the dam’s construction company, Norte Energia, the region’s inhabitants are being pushed out. If the dam is completed, these people will be forced to work in mines, log in the rainforest, or move to the cities to live in slums. The livelihoods of people who have subsisted from fishing, hunting, farming, and even tourism industries will be lost through the destruction of the ecology of the Xingu River region.”

Damien Scott 17-year-old Yurok, Karuk Tribe, and Team Klamazon member stated, “It’s depressing to see the future of indigenous children depend on this company, which seems to have no idea what it’s like to live and depend on the Xingu River.”

Upon returning from the village the team chartered a small plane. During their aerial tour of the dam sight the Team witnessed the vast beauty of the Xingu Basin interrupted only by the devastation of Belo Monte Dam construction operations. The impacts of damming a river that drains an area the size of California was clearly visible. The Xingu River, home of the Kayapo-Xikrin people, is one of the more intact tributaries to the Amazon Basin. This basin supports the world’s largest river, one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, ninety percent of the world’s remaining rainforest, and is the size of the continental U.S! According to river activist and one of Team Klamazon’s organizers, Nat Pennington,

“My heart soared to see the expanses of untouched virgin rainforest as we climbed above the tiny grass and dirt airstrip. We banked left following the Xingu upstream and the enormity of the river became clear. The banks of the braided river were covered by thick forest and the occasional indigenous fishing settlement. My heart sank as the construction site of Belo Monte Dam appeared on the horizon. Shades of green and blue that I had never seen before in my life turned to eroding brown mud fields, yellow cranes, thousands of dump trucks, concrete walls, massive diversion canals and huge levees. The area that the dam will inundate is virgin rainforest. The forest will not be cleared of jungle in time to avoid the release of the greenhouse gas methane caused by the anaerobic decomposition of the dense carbon stores held within. Thus, the Belo Monte Dam will have an effect on climate change equal to that of a coal power plant! Over 600 different fish species call the Xingu Basin home; some of these are believed to be endemic only to the basin. Working as a fish biologist on the Klamath River I witnessed dams sending fisheries like this to the brink of extinction.”

Before heading to the capital of Brazil the Team and the local dam resistance groups Movimento and Vivo Xingu Para Sempre held a press conference at the University of Altamira. Over eighty people attended the conference. There was much interest and thanks for the team’s efforts from the local media and townspeople who apparently are very disappointed with the construction of the dam and its far-reaching impact on their lives. The similarities between the genocide and oppression of indigenous cultures happening now in the Amazon and still happening in the U.S. are frightening. Power, mining, logging companies and cattle ranches are wreaking havoc on the Amazon, and their resource extraction operations are disrupting the ecological balance of one of the richest biological hotspots on the planet. They are displacing the lives of people, who have since time immemorial, been stewards of their lands, protecting and enhancing their environment. Displaying solidarity in their struggle, the local indigenous who took part in the conference joined the stage with Team Klamazon. An emotional outpouring ensued and the conference, which had been planned for an hour, lasted over four. Team member, Halle Pennington said, “I believe it’s time we learn to unite together as brothers and sisters, for in the end we are fighting the same battles, inequality, injustice and oppression. We live in an era where we have to fight to retain our natural rights and cultures, but our generation is strong and we will not back down in the war against shortsighted greed like what’s happening with Belo Monte. We may not win every battle but if we don’t fight at all, we have already lost.” The Press Conference included; a presentation on the Klamath Dam removal campaign, surprisingly in depth Q&A translated by Maira and filmmaker -Team member Ivan Castro, song, dance, and craft sharing by the local Amazon indigenous and Team members. Much of the discussion revolved around undoing the model of imperialism, colonialism, genocide and environmental destruction that was set up in Europe and the U.S. and is now so clearly present in the Amazon. The local newspapers covered the story of Team’s travels and their international campaign of dam resistance. The six o’clock news station headlined, “Dam Resistance Solidarity from Native America”.

Team Klamazon has returned from deep within the Amazon Basin to the U.S. tired but inspired, with an urgent message for the international audience. According to 16-year-old Yurok Tribe and Team Klamazon member – Mahlija Florendo,

“Rivers like the Klamath, the Xingu, and the Amazon are the bloodlines of every human on the planet. They are our life givers and they run with the same blood through all of us. We need to realize that we are all human and we all need to stand up for our rights, for our rivers, and our mother earth. These people from the Xingu are family and all our blood runs red.”

The Xikrin, Juruna and Arara are not alone in facing threats to their rights and environments. Many more monster dam and mining projects are on the chalkboard for the Amazon. Directly upstream on the Tapajos River, home to the Munduruku Tribe, construction of another dam is proposed to begin soon. This Dam would bring more of the same devastation witnessed at Belo Monte. Dania Rose Colegrove, Hoopa, Yurok Tribal member and a Team Klamazon organizer states,

“If the destruction in the Amazon continues, not only the indigenous, but the entire world will suffer the same fate. Now is the time for the world to unite against the greed and stupidity of these projects before we lose the world’s lungs and its largest river. We plan to deliver the message shared in the Amazon through continued educational events in the U.S. highlighting our experience. Ivan Castro is creating a film, which will chronicle our journey and its lessons. It will be made available to the general public as we share information and fundraise for future delegations and support for Xingu based Belo Monte resistance at events in the U.S.”

The Team, who funded their delegation and provided financial support to the local movement in Altamira through benefits, dinners, raffles and grants, send thanks to their supporters, from their home, the soon to be dam free Klamath River.

– Dania Rose Colegrove, Nathaniel Pennington, Anna Rose Colegrove, Sammy Gensaw III, Damien Scott, Mahlija Florendo, and Halle Pennington

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