The future of this area is still uncertain

“The river is our mother and father. We depend on it to survive. The river for us is everything. It is our life. As the story goes, the river is ours. It belongs to the Juruna. Before the white man came, we were always a canoeing people. We always lived off the river. That is why we are called Yudja, ‘the lords of the river,’ we are the owners of the river. The river for us is everything. As long as the Xingu exists, we will keep fighting. We will go on fighting until the end. When it dies, we die together with it.” – Gilliarde Juruna

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The so-called Big Bend of the Xingu River is a stretch of approximately 100 km on the left bank of the river. This river curve flows alongside two Indigenous Lands: Arara da Volta Grande (lit. Big Bend Macaw) and Paquiçamba. It is also home to hundreds of riparian families who depend on the river to survive. The future of this area is still uncertain.

“They are starting to appear now. No one really knows what is going to happen. I have been fighting against Belo Monte, and it is not because the construction is ready that I will stop fighting. On the contrary, the fight has just begun,” warns Gilliard Juruna, chief of the Miratu village.

The environmental impact studies concerning the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant do not account for the real impacts resulting from the reduced water flow in this stretch of the river, home to one of the planet’s largest environmental diversities. Since the beginning of the plant’s construction, the region and its inhabitants face intense transformations, and as of November 2015, with the final damming of the river [link to the part concerning Belo Monte], the impacts began to be strongly felt.

The Juruna

History

“Tell us: what does your name mean? Our name, YIuja, we have it because we are from this river, because we were created in this river.
Tell us: what are the borders of your land? From Altamira to Morena, this river is our land.
Tell us: why do you hunt in a canoe? “We can’t go on foot, we are not Indians. We have canoes to navigate.”

Tania Stolze Lima, A parte do cauim (1995, p. 59)

The Juruna are traditional inhabitants of the Xingu islands located between the Big Bend of the Xingu River and the Fresco River. These islands and the riverbanks were territory of a canoeing civilization that included the Xipaia and other peoples that have disappeared since the white man, some hundreds of years ago, began to arrive in the region.

They were people who traveled in the Xingu River and its tributaries hunting and fishing in canoes, and cultivated manioc, of which they made a fermented drink called cauim.

These peoples, whose population was very numerous, underwent a long process of genocide: they were murdered by the white man or killed by the diseases he brought.

There have been reports of attempted enslavement and catechesis of the Juruna since the 17th century. Prince Adalbert of Prussia, a traveler who was in the region in 1842, says that the population of the Juruna was, at that time, estimated at 2,000 people, distributed in nine villages. Twenty years later, they were reduced to 200. Already in 1916, the ethnographer Curt Nimuendajú counted only 52 of them. In a letter from 1920, Nimuendajú wrote the following:

“The Juruna, formerly the most important tribe of the Xingu, suffered the full weight of the advance of the rubber tappers. Especially the staff of the Col. [Colonel] Tancredo Martins Jorge, at the mouth of the Fresco River, committed, from murder down, all sorts of crimes against these poor people, until they rebelled and fled.”
Tell us: what are the borders of your land? “From Altamira to Morena, this river is our land.”

After a few changes upstream and downstream, the Juruna split into two groups: about 40 people headed upstream, and today are located in the Xingu Indigenous Park, in the state of Mato Grosso (see more here: Yudjá). A small group, the family of Tuxáua Muratú, about 12 people, remained near the waterfall of Jericoá, giving rise to the group that until today inhabits the region of the Middle Xingu.

The Juruna from the Big Bend of the Xingu River

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The word Juruna means “black mouth”, and it is the name given to the ethnicity by other indigenous peoples and whites. Yudjá is the name that they use in their own language to speak of themselves, and it means they are from the Xingu River, that they were created in this river, that they are lords of the river.

With the region’s progressive urbanization, intensified with each economic cycle and strongly pressured by the construction of the Trans-Amazonian Highway, the Juruna of the Middle Xingu absorbed into their culture several items typical of white society: the Portuguese language, television, clothes, and cell phones. For many decades they married provincials, and indigenous people of other ethnicities. They followed the different economic activities that came along and lived with the many waves of migrants that settled in their territory.

They kept, in the midst of this dynamism of cultures, their traditional knowledge about fishing and the forest, and a strong relationship with the Xingu River and its history.

In contact with their relatives of the Xingu Indigenous Park who kept their language and a way of life closer to the one of their ancestors, the Juruna from the region of Altamira have been recollecting their language and traditional practices, such as songs and dances.

“The lords of the river”

The Juruna have a special relationship with the Xingu River: they are excellent navigators and fishermen, employing a large variety of fishing techniques, and having a deep knowledge of the river’s ecology. Daring fishermen, they plunge fearlessly into its waters in search of acaris (catfish) or tracajás (river turtle).

The Paquiçamba Indigenous Land

The Juruna are spread in Altamira, on the banks of the Xingu River (especially in the Big Bend) and in the Paquiçamba Indigenous Land, in three villages: Paquiçamba, Muratu, and Furo Seco. There is also a village on kilometer 17 of the road between Altamira and Vitória do Xingu.
The Paquiçamba Indigenous Land was homologated in 1991, after a long and troubled administrative lawsuit that took more than 20 years to reach its conclusion. The initial demarcation proposed was 6,000 hectares, however, these limits were not consolidated, since the technicians responsible decided – without any technical argument to justify it – to delimit only 4,348 hectares, thus excluding important hunting, fishing, and collecting areas, essential for the physical and cultural reproduction of the Juruna people.

In the year 2000, the Juruna requested that further demarcation studies be conducted, so as to include the Paquiçamba waterfalls and other areas unduly excluded in the previous demarcation.

After a twelve-year wait, the Paquiçamba indigenous land expansion identification report was approved in November 2012. The Paquiçamba area increased from 4,348 to 15,733 hectares, with only 1,700 hectares of firm land. The rest is made up of small islands and bodies of water along the Big Bend of the Xingu River.

The expansion of the Paquiçamba Indigenous Land was one of the conditions for authorizing the environmental feasibility of the Belo Monte Power Plant. However, the redefining of the boundaries of the Indigenous Land only occurred after the beginning of the Xingu River damming in the Big Bend region was authorized in June 2011.

Belo Monte and the Juruna

“The river is our mother and father. We depend on it to survive. The river for us is everything. It is our life. As the story goes, the river is ours. It belongs to the Juruna. Before the white man came, we were always a canoeing people. We always lived off the river. That is why we are called Yudja, ‘the lords of the river,’ we are the owners of the river. The river for us is everything. As long as the Xingu exists, we will keep fighting. We will go on fighting until the end. When it dies, we die together with it.”

Gilliarde Juruna

The Xingu River is essential to the life of the Juruna: aside from living mainly off of fishing, they depend on the river to go from place to place, as they participate in a wide network of kinship and friendship relations that include Altamira and all of the Big Bend. The damming imposed with the Belo Monte plant puts their current way of life directly at risk, since the diversion of part of the flow of the river will likely lead to a permanent drought in the entire region of the Big Bend. Both fishing and navigation have already been compromised since the beginning of the plant’s construction.

For centuries, the Juruna have resisted the invasion of their territory. Belo Monte is another episode of this invasion: an episode that will bring drastic changes in the region’s environmental conditions, the consequences of which are dimly perceived. Nonetheless, AYMIX and the surrounding communities continue to struggle for their territory’s integrity.

The Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant is composed of two large reservoirs, a bypass channel, and the Reduced Flow Section, the last of which corresponds precisely to the region of the Big Bend of the Xingu River, because, on average, 80% of the water that used to pass there was diverted by the giant Pimental dam, in order to force the Xingu River to enter the bypass channel, leading its waters to an intermediate reservoir, which then leads them to flow into the Belo Monte dam, where the main powerhouse of the hydroelectric plant is located.

In the Big Bend of the Xingu River, in the plant’s Reduced Flow Section, two Indigenous Lands are located, Arara da Volta Grande and Paquiçamba, along with several riparian communities scattered throughout the territory, as well as the villages of Ressaca, Fazenda, and Garimpo do Galo. All communities in the region depend directly on the river for food, locomotion, and income, above all with fishing. In this same stretch of the river there is great diversity of aquatic life, including more than a dozen endemic species of fish, whose extinction is foreseen in the plant’s Environmental Impact Studies.

“The river is our mother and father. We depend on it to survive. The river for us is everything. It is our life. As the story goes, the river is ours. It belongs to the Juruna. Before the white man came, we were always a canoeing people. We always lived off the river. That is why we are called Yudja, ‘the lords of the river,’ we are the owners of the river. The river for us is everything. As long as the Xingu exists, we will keep fighting. We will go on fighting until the end. When it dies, we die together with it.”

Gilliarde Juruna

The impacts on this region’s people and environment are uncertain. A report signed by the technical team of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA), responsible for the licensing, indicates that the studies carried out do not present “conclusive information concerning the maintenance of the biodiversity, the navigability, and the population’s living conditions in the Reduced Flow Section”. Therefore, the consequences of the river diversion, and the maintenance of a reduced flow, which artificially attempts to keep up with the natural pulse of floods and droughts of the Xingu River, must be monitored during the six years consecutive to the beginning of the plant’s operation.

Nothing guarantees that the communities of the Big Bend of the Xingu River will have minimum environmental conditions of survival after the river is closed. Even so, the plant’s environmental licenses were granted with the concessionaire being obliged to implement a “robust plan for monitoring” the impacts on “water quality, ichthyofauna, alluvial vegetation, chelonians, fishing, navigation, and livelihoods of the population of the Big Bend” during the first six years after the plant starts operating in full capacity.

“Every day it is a different problem, and the insecurity that we live with constantly? Before we had total security in staying here, this had always been land of the Juruna, it was divided long ago… The land of the Juruna has always been here and now we are afraid we will no longer be able to live here, we are afraid because we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Bel Juruna

The monitoring of the socio-environmental consequences of the reduced flow during the trial period is very important, since the amount of water the Plant will be obliged to let pass for the maintenance of the Big Bend’s socio-environmental conditions, to the detriment of energy generation, depends on it.

For this reason, the production and reporting of information should not depend exclusively on the company, which happens to be the party most interested in the production of energy. There is, clearly, in this institutional arrangement, an intrinsic conflict of interest that should be addressed through the use of additional independent mechanisms for monitoring the region. However, the monitoring programs and the reporting of their results are exclusively carried out by the concessionaire Norte Energia S.A., with the participation of local populations being marginal and intermediated by the company before the licensing agency and other control entities.

In this context, the importance of the fishing and food consumption monitoring carried out by AYMIX since September 2013 in partnership with the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) and ISA becomes evident.

Belo Sun and the Juruna

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The mining project called the “Big Bend Project”, whose interested entrepreneur is the company Belo Sun Mineração Ltda., intends to install itself in the Big Bend of the Xingu River, less than 10 kilometers away from the Paquiçamba indigenous land, with no technical assessments concerning the cumulative and synergic impacts between the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant and the mining company, as well as without any prior, free and informed consultation with the indigenous and riparian populations that live in the region, and are currently the object of monitoring of the consequences of the implementation of the river’s reduced flow, resulting from the beginning of Belo Monte’s operation.

During 2013, the three villages of the Paquiçamba indigenous land sent an official statement to the Secretariat of Environment (SEMA) of Pará and to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) requesting the suspension of the mining company’s licensing process until the respective consultations with the region’s indigenous and riparian peoples are made.

Learn more about the struggle of the Juruna to being consulted: https://www.socioambiental.org/pt-br/noticias-socioambientais/coema-adia-votacao-de-projeto-de-mineracao-vizinho-de-belo-monte

In July 2014 the Federal Court of Pará suspended the environmental licensing process, among other reasons, due to the absence of free, prior and informed consultation with the population of the Big Bend of the Xingu River. Nevertheless, the government of Pará obtained a suspension of the decision and issued the mining company’s prior license in 2015, only mentioning the need of having consultations carried out before the installation of the enterprise. Currently, the lawsuit continues to be filed by the MPF of Altamira.

Learn more about the lawsuits against Belo Sun: http://www.prpa.mpf.mp.br/news/2014/sentenca-anula-licenca-ambiental-para-o-projeto-belo-sun

The company Belo Sun Mineração Ltda. is a Brazilian subsidiary of the Belo Sun Mining Corporation, member of the group Forbes & Manhattan Inc. This company holds an authorization from the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM) to conduct mineral research in the region of the Big Bend of the Xingu River (lawsuits no. 805.657/76, 805.658/76, 805.659/76, 812.559/76), and is awaiting the issuance of an environmental license for installation by the Secretariat of Environment of Pará (SEMA-PA), to allow for the subsequent implementation of a mining and beneficiation enterprise that would correspond to the largest exploration project of this metal in the country, using open-pit mining.

Learn more about the project and its impacts: https://www.socioambiental.org/pt-br/noticias-socioambientais/belo-sun-e-o-jogo-de-sete-erros-que-podem-acabar-de-vez-com-a-volta-grande-do-xingu

Documents for download:

Juruna letter requesting consultation
Technical Report from MPF 4th CCR
Technical Report from Norte Energia against the project

 

Upcoming Canoe Protest

2018

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