Chief Raoni on 'final mission' to protect Amazon lands

Raoni, a chief of the Kayapo people

One of the most iconic defenders of the Amazon rainforest, 91-year-old indigenous chief Raoni Metuktire, will launch a worldwide appeal Thursday for help with his "final mission": gaining protected status for his people's ancestral lands.

Raoni, a chief of the Kayapo people in north-central Brazil, will make the appeal as part of a live webcast called "Protecting the Amazon," organized by several environmental groups to pressure President Jair Bolsonaro's government to better protect the world's biggest rainforest.

"I'm overwhelmed with sadness when I see how our lands are being destroyed more each day," Raoni said in a video pre-recorded for the event and shared with AFP.

"I want (the government) to officially demarcate the Kapot-Nhinore indigenous reserve. It's my final mission. I'm very old, but I have to do this," said the chief, who is known for his colorful feather headdresses and the large disc inserted in his lower lip.

Raoni, who survived a bout with Covid-19 last year, was born in the Kapot-Nhinore territory, a once-isolated strip of rainforest that is today encroached upon by illegal farming and ranching. Environmentalists say one of the best ways to protect such areas is to demarcate them as indigenous reserves, officially protecting the land and its tribes.

However, the demarcation process is threatened under Bolsonaro, a far-right climate-change skeptic who is pushing to open protected lands to mining and agribusiness.

Raoni and another top indigenous leader, Chief Almir Narayamoga Surui, last month asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Bolsonaro for crimes against humanity, accusing him of unprecedented environmental damage, killings and persecution in the Amazon.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, destroying an area larger than Jamaica last year.

"We have an absolute state of emergency in the Amazon today, because Bolsonaro is blowing up every single measure to protect the rainforest and indigenous lands," said Gert-Peter Bruch, an organizer of Thursday's webcast and the founder of environmental group Planet Amazon.

Thursday's event will feature a slate of prominent environmentalists, including primatologist Jane Goodall, Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, Princess Marie-Esmeralda of Belgium and young Belgian climate activists Adelaide Charlier and Anuna de Wever. It will be broadcast on Facebook, YouTube and EarthX TV at 1900 GMT.