How the EU can help save Indigenous lives and the Amazon

Brussels’s new deforestation legislation should include a ban on products linked to violence against Indigenous people.

An indigenous child of Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe, looks on in an area deforested by invaders, after a meeting was called in the village of Alto Jamari to face the threat of armed land grabbers invading the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reservation near Campo Novo de Rondonia, Brazil January 30, 2019. Picture taken January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A child from the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe, stands in an area deforested by invaders, after a meeting was called in the village of Alto Jamari to face the threat of armed land grabbers invading the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous Reservation near Campo Novo de Rondonia, Brazil on January 30, 2019 [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

In the rainforest, where I live, we often see red flames burning bright into the night. When we wake up, there are clouds of smoke from the forest fires still smouldering. Every day, we live in fear of land grabbers starting yet another fire or worse – attacking and killing us.

I am a member of the Juma and Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous community in Brazil. My two communities have lived in the rainforest for centuries, passing down ancient knowledge and traditions from generation to generation that allow us to live in harmony with nature. I was taught that we do not own the forest, but depend on it, and that our role is to protect it.

To us, the forest is life. But when corporations look at the forest, our home, they see it as profit. They illegally take our land and destroy it to grow cattle and soya for animal fodder, much of which is exported to Europe, where people do not know these products come from Indigenous lands.

From the beef burgers eaten in restaurants to the milk poured into trendy coffee drinks, European consumption contributes to the destruction of our forests and is a part of the violence committed against Indigenous people.

Rainforests and their Indigenous communities face the same menace around the world. Deforestation, mining, and oil extraction, among others, in rainforests not only devastate nature but also end lives.

The rise in demand for products that feed into European markets is breeding more and more violence against Indigenous people, most of which does not make it to the news. My uncle Ari was killed for protecting our land. His murder is still unresolved, but we continue to tell his story. The people in my community who speak out against deforestation have all been threatened, but they have not been silenced.

The recent election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as Brazil’s next president offers us hope for a different future, where our rights are not trampled in favour of ruthless business interests and economic growth. Where my family, friends and I do not need to protect our home from land invaders or face death threats and intimidation each and every day.

But let us not forget that Lula beat Jair Bolsonaro, the incumbent who has openly shown his hostility to Indigenous rights and environmental protection, only narrowly. That is why we still do not feel safe in our community and expect that conservative forces will push back against progressive environmental measures Lula tries to introduce.

Our future is hanging by a thread and depends not just on the actions of the new government in Brazil. As I am writing this, policymakers in Brussels are negotiating the final text for a law to tackle EU-driven deforestation.

This is an incredible opportunity to support and defend Indigenous people and to protect forests and other lands, such as savannahs, which are our homes and the source of our livelihoods. The outcome of these negotiations will have immediate implications worldwide and set a precedent for other countries to follow.

EU states can show they stand with us at this critical moment. The regulation they are negotiating should include provisions preventing products linked to violence and displacement of Indigenous communities from entering the European market. This will require strong enforcement mechanisms with robust controls and checks for imported commodities.

This legislation must build on existing international human rights standards, which are instrumental for us in our struggle to achieve justice and save our lands. This law would protect not only nature but also our home.

Lula’s government can make a difference, but without action from the EU and other large markets for Brazilian products, the situation in the Amazon rainforest will likely continue to deteriorate. We will continue to see the red flames burning at night and the violence against Indigenous people will keep escalating. This will be devastating for me and my community, and for the whole planet.

I am calling on European politicians to stand on our side and help save Indigenous lives. Be our ally in this fight and protect the world’s forests and savannahs.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.