XINGU INDIGENOUS PARK, Brazil (Reuters) – She is only 16 and from a remote Brazilian village on the Tapajos River in the heart of the Amazon, but her plea has been heard at the United Nations and the Vatican.
Beka Munduruku wants the world to protect the rainforest that is her home and a bulwark against global warming. Environmentalists in Brazil have called her the Amazon’s Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has inspired millions of young people to take action against climate change.
“People of the world, come and help us protect nature and fight the projects of a government that wants to destroy the forest,” Beka told Reuters at a meeting of indigenous leaders in the Xingu reservation.
She spoke, among other issues, of how she used to play in the nearby river but now mercury from wildcat mining poisons the water.
Growing deforestation by illegal loggers also threatens the existence of Beka’s 13,000 fellow Mundurukus who live off the forest. The survival of her tribe depends on their part of the Amazon being preserved.
They fear the worst. Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro plans to open up protected reservation lands to commercial mining and agriculture, and is considering building hydro dams on the Tapajos, the last major tributary of the Amazon that is free flowing.
“We depend so much on the forest, but it’s not just for us, it is for the sake of the future of the whole world,” Beka said.
The government is planning roads and a railroad to transport soy beans to port for export that would cut through the forest, while a dam would kill fish species that the Munduruku still catch despite the mercury pollution, she said.
Bolsonaro has said his government is protecting the rainforest, but he wants economic development in the Amazon to improve the lives of its 30 million inhabitants, including its tribes. Environmentalists fear that will hasten deforestation.
A video of Beka was shown at the Vatican and a U.N. climate summit last year. She says she made the video to show the world how an Amazon tribe lives and how the young generation is committed to keeping its language and culture, threatened by government plans to assimilate Brazil’s 850,00 indigenous people.
Teenage organizers of the school strike called by Thunberg in Europe have sent Beka video messages of support.
Munduruku is the name for the red ants of the Amazon jungle and Beka’s tribe was given the name for the way their warrior’s stand side by side like a cohort of ants.
For Beka, that spirit will help the tribe win the battle to preserve the rainforest, considered a bastion against climate change because of the vast amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide it soaks up from the atmosphere.
“We are a very strong people and will be able to stop this and continue fighting for our land and the protection of the forest,” she said.
Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Tom Brown