We are deeeply saddened by the death from COVID-19 of the great leader and warrior Bepkororoti, better known as Paulinho Payakan.
Born in the village Kubẽkrãkêj in the 1950s, the son of chief Tchikirí, he went on to found the village A’Ukre. He dedicated his life tirelessly to protecting the forests and guaranteeing the territories and rights of Brazil’s indigenous peoples. He was one of the first of his people to learn Portuguese and like his uncle Raoni he was one of the Kayapó’s most accomplished diplomats. He was famous as a Mẽkabẽndjwỳj, a master of words – everyone was impressed to hear him speak. He had a wealth of knowledge about Mẽbêngôkre (Kayapó) culture and tradition, but he also understood better than any other Kayapó how the non-indigenous world worked. Although he was softly spoken he was astute and incisive in fighting for the rights of his people.
He made good use of his extraordinary communication skills to promote the cause of indigenous rights. He was a cornerstone of the indigenous movement in Brazil and became involved with the growing global environmental movement in the 1980s, building long-standing international partnerships for his people. He was fundamental in creating the main institutions of the Mẽbêngôkre-Kayapó people, including Associação Floresta Protegida (the Protected Forest Association). He was core to the struggle to ensure that indigenous rights were specifically included in the post-dictatorship 1988 Brazilian Constitution and he worked tirelessly to achieve the demarcation of the Kayapó Indigenous Territory. He was also at the forefront of the fight against the Belo Monte dam (then known as Kararaó) in the 1980s, preventing its construction until 2016, when a smaller scheme was built. He was the first elected president of the Federation of Indigenous Peoples of Pará State.
Payakan, your journey ends today in Ngômeiti village, where your relatives will mourn your departure. The indigenous movement has lost a great warrior and veteran of countless conquests. We honor you legacy and continue your struggle, alongside Oê and Maial, your daughters, who follow in your footsteps.