Sustaining the Amazon With Its Indigenous Peoples
The rainforest holds answers to questions yet asked. Local Surinamese expression
Acaté brings much needed support to the struggling indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon. Increasingly pressured and threatened by extraction industries such as petroleum, timber, and biopiracy, our organization seeks to provide regenerative alternatives to these ecologically and socially damaging industries.
Working directly with the Matsés people, one of the largest indigenous populations in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest, we are implementing strategic programs that provide much needed revenue without destroying their land and chosen way of life.
By helping the Matsés, and other indigenous peoples of the Amazon, to maintain a more sustainable and harmonious way of life, both their culture and the ecology of their territory can be protected and nurtured.
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon is the greatest rainforest on the Earth. It is a land of superlatives, where greatest exaggeration falls short of eclipsing the reality of its grandeur and significance to human life. As vast as it is diverse, the Amazon is a repository for one in every ten species on the planet and one fifth of the world’s fresh water that flows to the ocean. A few hectares of forest in certain regions of Peru may contain as many species of trees as found within the entire continental United States. The total biomass of carbon in the Amazon Basin is estimated at 86 billion metric tons. To place it in perspective, the annual CO2 emissions from the United States represent less than a tenth of a percent of this figure. The Amazon, the largest rainforest in the world, is the lungs of our planet.
Scientific studies confirm that indigenous peoples are extremely knowledgeable and responsible custodians of their environment. The Barasana Indians of Colombia can identify the tree species in their territory without referring to fruit or flowers, a feat not approachable by any university-trained field botanist. A single Piaroa swidden field in the Venezuelan Orinoco may contain 40 distinct varieties of native manioc. The extent of forest knowledge and utilization by Amazonian tribal peoples is not restricted to the botanical kingdom: the Kayapó of central Brazil can recognize 56 species of stingless bees and can describe the particular qualities of each species’ flight pattern, nest construction and honey production.
Tribal peoples understand and value the rainforest because they are dependent upon it. This relationship extends beyond a utilitarian reliance; there is spiritual link to the forest, a sense of interconnectivity, difficult to comprehend through the compartmentalized Western mindset but one no less real. It is not a coincidence that the remaining tracts of pristine rainforest in the Neotropics overlap with areas of indigenous habitation.
By estimates, 95% of the population of indigenous peoples perished following the ‘discovery’ of the New World by Columbus. In the prior century, it is estimated that over 90 tribes went extinct in Brazil alone. The Amerindian peoples that survived the devastation of European conquest and disease, face enormous health, environmental and social challenges in the setting of limited extrinsic resources. In the 21st century, a handful of tribes still live in its most remote reaches and are completely dependent on the forest. The tribes that have emerged from these areas face staggering odds and adversity. They do not seek to maintain a state of existence frozen in time, but to adapt and survive in a manner that ensures self-sufficiency and hope for the future of their people. These tribes struggle and face deep generational divides; cultural erosion, depression, high rates of alcoholism and suicide all plague their communities. The remote tribes of the Amazon remain as among the most marginalized peoples in the Western Hemisphere.
The Matsés, or Jaguar People, inhabit some of most remote rainforests in the world. Divided across the vast expanse of the Amazon and the countries of Peru and Brazil. Across the river into Brazil, part of their territory lies within the Valle do Javari Indigenous Reserve, which contains the largest number of uncontacted groups remaining in the world. The Matsés inhabit the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, an area of staggering natural beauty and almost inconceivable biodiversity, but a land deeply troubled and beset with threats from narco-traffickers, multinational petroleum companies, and loggers. It is one of the last frontiers. Although it is taking place with different actors, the indigenous situation in the Amazon evokes hauntingly tragic parallels to the United States’ displacement of Native Americans a little over a century ago.
At Acaté Amazon Conservation, we believe that the Amazon is an endowment to be protected and respected, not destroyed as our petroleum, timber, and mineral extraction industries are doing right now. We have spent the last decade nurturing relationships with indigenous communities and forming partnerships to help give them a larger voice in the struggle to survive these extractive industries.
Our programs involve documenting the indigenous wisdom of plant medicine, piloting permaculture methods for sustainable and regenerative agricultural systems, and finding ways to generate a dependable income using renewable non-timber resources to provide much needed economic opportunities for their communities.