Dec 042015

We have just returned from Brazil, where we went to the first-ever International Indigenous Games.

A warrior wearing a green feather cocaa headdress watches the firework display at the International Indigenous Games in Brazil. 24th October 2015 (Sue Cunningham/SCP)Over twenty countries sent delegations. There were archers from Mongolia and the Phillippines, runners from the USA and Kenya and canoeists from Finland and Canada. There was a good representation of Maoris from Aotearoa/New Zealanad.

From within Brazil 24 ethnic groups were represented, including several from the Xingu region. They were there to celebrate the rich variety of indigenous cultures and to show their physical strength to the world.

Indigenous peoples of many ethnic groups watch a demonstration of the log race by Xerente warriors under a full moon at the International Indigenous Games, in the city of Palmas, Tocantins State, Brazil. Photo © Sue Cunningham, 27th October 2015 (Sue Cunningham/SCP)The event was poorly organised, and did not even pay lip service to any environmental concerns. It took place amid rows of enormous oil-powered generators whose principal function was to power ranks of air conditioners which battled to cool rooms and spaces that were open to the outside for the benefit of visitors to the games, while facilities for the contestants were woefully inadequate.

Yet it was an amazing opportunity for the diverse groups of indigenous peoples from around the globe to exchange experiences, ideas and information.Maori delegate Earl greets a Brazilian Pataxo delegate at the International Indigenous Games, in the city of Palmas, Tocantins State, Brazil. 27th October 2015 (Sue Cunningham/SCP) The Maori and North American groups told me that they have learned a great deal about the challenges facing their South American counterparts, and left with a resolve to help disseminate the information they had gained amongst their own people. They were shocked to hear about recent moves in the Brazilian Congress to water down the rights of indigenous Brazilians, which would put at grave risk their rights to occupy their traditional lands. When demonstrations about these proposals interrupted the games, nobody complained.

Indigenous people demonstrate against Brazilian government policies during the International Indigenous Games, in the city of Palmas, Tocantins State, Brazil. Photo © Sue Cunningham, 27th October 2015 (Sue Cunningham/SCP)For the Brazilian delegations the games offered valuable opportunities to build communications and contacts with people from other parts of the country, especially important just at this time when their rights are under such a potent and potentially devastating threat.


Here’s a gallery of photos:

Nov 132014

The summer has passed and we are now in the bracing clutches of autumn. Yet it seems only a few weeks ago that we had the immense pleasure of hosting Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramae, leaders of the Kayapo and spokesmen for all of Brazil’s indigenous peoples, in our home.

Chiefs in front of the House of Commons

The Chiefs in front of the House of Commons

Their visit was a whirlwind. They would have liked a little time to see our country, and we wanted very much to show them some of the sights that date back to tribal times in England, like Stonehenge and the Uffington White Horse.

But that was not to be; despite having very short notice of their visit we managed to put together a full programme, including open meetings at Oxford University and University College London, a meeting with senior-level MPs at the House of Commons and media interviews. They met with Survival International and the Gaia Foundation, and the Rainforest Foundation helped us to put on a press conference, chaired by Bianca Jagger. They even had a private meeting with Prince Charles.

We have produced a short video report of the visit:


British politicians active in the areas of international environment and human rights are now better informed about the situation on the ground in the Amazon. The impact of this is difficult to evaluate because the results are not always obvious.

Meeting at Parliament

Meeting at Paliament

The visit has elevated the public profile of Brazil’s indigenous peoples and highlighted the Brazilian government’s lack of commitment to supporting and prioritising environmental sustainability and indigenous peoples’ rights.


Land Demarcation

Raoni spoke passionately about the demarcation of indigenous territories. In particular he talked about Capot Nhinore, traditionally inhabited by the Kayapo, where his ancestors lie buried.

Although the government acknowledged the Indians’ claims over thirty years ago the area is still occupied illegally by settlers and farmers. Successive governments have unjustifiably sidelined the demarcation of this area.

The Kayapo are left with no alternative but to take matters into their own hands. If the government will not act to fulfil its obligations, then the indigenous people feel they must do it for themselves. They need our support to do this, and today, following a plea from the Chiefs during their visit, we launch a fundraising initiative to help them.

Please make a donation to our demarcation appeal:




After thirty years of procrastination, in 2012 Brazil’s courts directed Funai, the Indian agency, to demarcate the land. The technical work has now been completed, but the demarcation still requires the signature of the Minister of Justice,  José Eduardo Cardozo. It joins a growing number of other indigenous territories which have been fully researched and signed off by Funai, but which the Minister has refused, so far, to sign into law.

To put this into perspective, the 1988 constitution mandated the government to complete the demarcation of all indigenous territories within five years. Yet more than a quarter of a century later many remain undemarcated. The rate of demarcation declined under the presidency of Lula and has ground to a halt under Dilma Rousseff – not a single territory has been demarcated since April 2013, despite the pile of cases on Cardozo’s desk being now over thirty. The following table shows demarcations signed into law during the last six presidencies:

President [period] Number Extension (Ha)
Dilma Rousseff [Jan 2011 to Nov 2014] 11 2,025,406
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2007 to Dec 2010] 21 7,726,053
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva [Jan 2003 to Dec 2006] 66 11,059,713
Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1999 to Dec 2002] 31 9,699,936
Fernando Henrique Cardoso [Jan 1995 to Dec 1998] 114 31,526,966
Itamar Franco [Oct 92 to Dec 94] 16 5,432,437
Fernando Collor [Mar 90 to Sep 92] 112 26,405,219
José Sarney [Apr 85 to Mar 90] 67 14,370,486

(Source: Instituto Socioambiental – ISA)

The complete halt since April 2013 clearly demonstrates this government’s reluctance to fulfil its statutory obligations.

Changes to Brazilian Law

Proposals to change Brazilian law in ways which will badly affect Brazil’s indigenous peoples are deeply troubling for Megaron. He told his audiences about several measures, any one of which will spell disaster for many indigenous communities. These range from moves to modify the 1988 constitution itself, to changes in ministerial regulations which could open up indigenous territories for mining and agriculture, oil exploration and dam building.

These represent a major attack on the rights and interests of indigenous peoples. They go against the letter and the spirit of Brazil’s international commitments, including United Nations declarations and conventions which it has signed up to. They also conflict with rights granted under Brazil’s own laws, but the justice system is heavily loaded in favour of the government and against the intersts of indigenous communities.

Dam Building

Dams present polemical problems in the Amazon. The Brazilian government claims they are a source of green energy, yet they produce so much methane that they can contribute more to climate change than producing the same amount of energy from fossil fuels. The social and environmental impacts are horrendous, and they bring hundreds of thousands of migrants into sensitive environments with no infrastructure, where they wreak unrestrained havoc.

Belo Monte construction site

Belo Monte construction site

But the Brazilian government is adamant: Brazil will build ever more dams. Belo Monte, the world’s third largest, is presently under construction, despite Brazil’s courts having found it illegal time and time again. There are over twenty legal cases against it, mostly initiated by the Public Prosecutors’ Office in Belém. Each case takes years to come to court, yet when the courts impose injunctions to stop the construction they are suspended in days by a judge in chambers, pending a hearing in a higher court. That hearing is always years away, and in the intervening time the construction project steams ahead despite being judged illegal.

One case which was initiated nine years ago, brought on the grounds that the project is unconstitutional, finally reached the Court of Appeal in August of 2012. Three High Court judges unanimously upheld the findings of the lower court and reimposed the injunction, paralysing the scheme. Within days, a carefully chosen Supreme Court judge had suspended the injunction yet again, allowing construction to recommence. By the time the case gets to a full hearing in the Supreme Court, the dam will be complete, so any finding will be too little, too late.

These inequalities in Brazil’s legal process are at odds with its claim to be a modern democracy. They hark back to the dark days of military dictatorship.

Brazil has plans for up to sixty huge dams in the Amazon, and hundreds of smaller ones.

The sensitive rainforest environment is already changing, becoming drier and less stable. Rapid development in the States of Mato Grosso and Pará in recent years are already causing a reduction in rainfall which threatens to leave the dams with insufficient water to work efficiently, yet the viability and environmental studies for them failed even to consider these factors at all.

With Belo Monte fast becoming a fait accommpli, attention is now moving to the next river, the Tapajos, where three dams are already in the advanced planning stage. These will have a massive impact on the Mundurucu indigenous people.

More Information:

Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam:
Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Amazon Dams:
Scientific Paper about GHG emissions from Dams:
Tapajos River – Hydroelectric dams:

Jun 152014

Kayapo Chiefs Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe arrived in England last Monday. They found themselves very quickly ushered into the high tech surroundings of the Channel 4 studio!

It has been twenty-five years since Chief Raoni was accompanied by rock star Sting on a world tour. Sadly, the threats and problems that existed then are still causing problems, and a giant dam – Belo Monte, which will be the world’s third largest – is being built on the Xingu River where he lives.

The Chiefs were here to ask for our help. The interview is moving. Paul Mason said on his blog “It’s one of the most amazing encounters I’ve ever had – and one that nobody in the world will be able to have again if we let development and resource speculation destroy what’s left of the world’s indigenous peoples.” – See more on Paul’s blog

Here is the interview with Paul Mason on Channel 4 News:

It was a great experience. It was very touching how, with the interview completed, all of Paul’s highly professional team just couldn’t wait to get selfies of themselves with the chiefs – and that included Paul Mason himself, who was clearly deeply moved by the meeting!

Jun 062014

Photos related to the June 2014 visit are available from the Sue Cunningham Photographic picture library. The gallery below includes photos taken during the visit and historic photos of the two Chiefs, together with a selection of images which illustrate the issues they raised while in the UK.

The pictures are available for editorial use on a commercial license, but a limited selection may be made available free of charge on a limited license for use only in connection with this visit and stories related to it. Photos are not supplied Royalty Free and may not be distributed to third parties or used on the Internet, other than as stated above. Clicking on an image will take you to the Sue Cunningham Photographic site.


Jun 022014

Chiefs Raoni Metuktire and Megaron Txucarramãe are coming to Europe. In the UK Tribes Alive has organised public meetings with University College, London (UCL) on Tuesday 10th June at 6:30pm, and with Oxford University on Wednesday 11th at 5pm.

Please join us for either of the meetings. For UCL please follow the link below to register. Attendance is free of charge but places are limited, so you need to register:

Register to attend the UCL meeting, 10th June

In Oxford, the venue will be the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre at Christ Church College. There is no need to register.

The Chiefs are here to highlight the failure of the Brazilian government to respect the rights of the indigenous peoples. Not a single indigenous territory (TIs) has been approved since April 2013 and only a handful were approved during the first two years of the Rousseff government, although over 33 percent have yet to be demarcated. In addition there are numerous proposals for changes to Brazil’s constitution and laws which would see indigenous rights drastically undermined.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Kayapo Chiefs Raoni and Megaron talk to an International television reporter at the People's Summit, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 15th June 2012. Photo © Sue Cunningham. (Sue Cunningham/SCP)The indigenous people of Brazil today feel marginalised and discriminated against. The government has ignored the timetable laid down in the 1988 Constitution which said that demarcation of all indigenous territories (TIs) must be completed by 5th October 1993.

More than twenty years after that deadline expired a third of all TIs are still not approved.

The present government has the poorest record on demarcation of any since Brazil’s return to democracy, having initially slowed approval of demarcations to a trickle, then paralysed the process completely.

Brazil’s performance on the rights of indigenous peoples has been roundly condemned by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indiegenous Peoples and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Over 500 indigenous people from 100 ethnic groups last week staged marches and demonstrations in Brasilia, in the run-up to the World Cup, using the event to highlight government failings and to protest against the proposed changes to the law.

During their visit to Europe, which has been organised by French NGO Planète Amazone, Chiefs Raoni and Megaron will be meeting representatives of the French and British governments, King Harald of Norway and Prince Albert of Monaco. In the UK they will have a personal audience with Prince Charles.

May 312014

Two Kayapo Chiefs today issued an invitation to the England squad to visit their Amazonian village for a game of football.

In a letter to England Manager, Roy Hodgson, Chief Raoni Metuktire and Chief Megaron Txucarramãe have invited the squad to their rainforest territory “after playing Brazil in the final”.

“We are all huge football fans and we challenge England to play against the Kayapó ‘national team’,” wrote Chief Megaron.

“We live beside the Xingu River in the eastern part of the Amazonian rainforest. Our village is very traditional and we still live as our forefathers, so this would be a great opportunity for you to see how we live.”

The Chiefs are awaiting the Squad’s reply anxiously. Channel 4 News carried the invitation yesterday.

May 082014

The programme of visits to schools by Sue and Patrick Cunningham continues to grow. They are now being invited back to some schools for the third time to present their illustrated talk, which is continuously updated to reflect the changing situation.

The talks are lively and generate sustained question and answer sessions, cramming a huge amount of information into a short time in an exciting and accessible format. Audiences value the personal connection to the rain forest which they get from the talks. You can follow on Facebook the growing list of schools, colleges and universities across Britain which they have visited.

Sue and Patrick would very much like to extend their visits to reach more schools, especially in the public sector. They work as volunteers for Tribes Alive, so they need to be paid for the talks. They are looking for sponsorship to fill the gap in resources which makes it difficult for public sector schools to take advantage of the talks.

May 082014

British fashion chain Sahara has launched its ‘Xingu’ range. The six tops in the range make use of a traditional face paint design, created by Nghongo Kayapo using genipapo fruit dye. The clothes are the outcome of a co-operation between the company and Tribes Alive.


For every item from the range sold the company makes a donation to the community which will be used to strengthen their culture and protect their territory from invasion.

Here’s the Sahara range.

This collaboration is a great way to bring a little information about the tribal people of Brazil to an audience who might not come across them in their normal lives, while helping to bring much-needed resources to the community.

Dec 152012

It is good news that the English AQA examination board is focusing on Belo Monte in the Geography 4B GCSE unit.

On this website we have a section specifically for schools (More Information>For Schools) which includes general information about the Amazon, highlighting the position of and threats to indigenous people. Under More Information>Threats there is original material about hydroelectric dams, focusing heavily on Belo Monte: Hydroelectric Dams. Don’t stop at the end of the section, there is relevant material under the next heading – Mineral Extraction – and there are some links related to Belo Monte at the bottom of the page.

There is a film about Belo Monte (with English subtitles) and other video resources on our Videos page and on our YouTube Channel

Please let us know if you find this interesting. If there is more information you would like to know or if you have questions, either go on our Facebook page and post your enquiry there, or send us an email. You will be in direct contact with people who have long personal experience of the Xingu River and a profound understanding of the issues involved. You should of course also explore the views of other people who hold different views!

There is plenty of additional information on the Heart of Brazil Expedition blog. The following posts are relevant to your studies about Belo Monte:

Belo Monte Environmental Impact Assessment
Hydroelectric Dams: The Indians Unite
Hydroelectricity in the Heart of Brazil
Altamira to Porto De Moz; Hydroelectric Potential

The No Belo Monte Dam blog also has plenty of information about the scheme

Indigenous People’s Cultural Support Trust, the registered charity behind Tribes Alive, put out this press release at the time of the huge demonstration in Altamira in 2008. It includes useful historic, scientific, legal and social background, but remember that it was written four years ago!

Finally, you can see galleries of our photos from the Xingu in our photos page. Although you can’t download them from the galleries, if you have a specific request we will grant you a restricted license and send you a download link.

Belo Monte is a very complex issue, It can be covered  in a quite superficial way, but if you mine the resources presented or linked to here you will gain a profound understanding. Good luck!