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The Fight for Amazonia
Profile: Benki Piyako
A young man teaches his people how to spread their wings while staying to true to their roots in the rainforest.
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2012 17:12
 
Benki Piyako is the son of the chief of the Ashaninka tribe - a 45,000 strong indigenous community in the Amazonian state of Acre.

Benki Piyako's family is leading the charge to increase the capacity of indigenous peoples to defend their land against outside exploitation. In the process, they are teaching communities improved land management techniques to help them both benefit from their natural resources and preserve a rich and unique ecosystem.

At the heart of this struggle is a young man who seemed destined to work towards helping to protect the environment - just not in the way he had imagined.

When he was just two years old, Benki was placed in the care of his grandfather, who trained him to be a pajé - someone who possesses a deep knowledge of traditions and healing and uses this knowledge to help his community. It was a responsibility he carried with him into adulthood.

When FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, started to talk about demarcation of land, Benki and his three brothers assumed a leadership role in the community and decided to launch a plan to defend their land. They created a council of 20 people, including 10 young people, in their community to non-violently resist the invasion of ranch owners.

In 1992, Benki participated in the ECO 92 Environment and Development Summit, which was the first time he left his land to speak on behalf of the many indigenous people who were not able to do so.

On his return journey, Benki gave a series of lectures at universities in the state of São Paulo and there he was introduced to new kinds of thinking and research on conservation and development. Inspired, he returned to his village with the idea of creating a research project based on indigenous knowledge to preserve the forest.

In the following months he began researching the different kinds of plants, fruits and animals in the region. This was the beginning of the Yoreka Atame School of Primeval Forestry - where young people, both indigenous and non-indigenous, are taught how to make use of their environment in a sustainable way. The students worked to re-forest parts of the Amazon and soon, seeing the difference they had made, others began doing similar work.

Benki then founded a cooperative that produced more than 80 different types of products and materials. On the back of that success, he exported similar environmental and development strategies to other villages suffering exploitation by loggers.

Benki has been recognised with an award for his success in defending indigenous land rights and, in 2000, he also played a role in the creation of the Pro-Indigenous Commission and assumed the presidency of the Agri-Forestal Movement.

Today, he forms alliances not only within the Amazon but with people and organisations across the world. In order to explain that by helping to safeguard his home, others are safeguarding theirs - as the rainforests of Brazil provide more than 20 per cent of the world's oxygen - Benki broadcasts a videoblog from his village, in the process helping to share the experience of living in the rainforest.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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