Condensed by Native Village
Narayamoga Surui was
born into the
an indigenous Amazonian
the time, his people had very
little contact with the
world outside the
Almir -- the first Surui member to
attend college -- has
spent over 20 years fighting to save
his tribe and the
Recently, The United Nations Forum on Forests honored him with a Forest Hero Award for working to sustain, protect and manage forests.
“He has brought his tribe back from the brink of extinction through ingenious and courageous environmental and political activism,” said Daniel Shaw from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Mr. Surui was born in 1974 when the Surui had already been in “contact with white people.” Immediately, his tribe faced problems with economic exploitation and disease.
"My people were reduced from 5,000 people to 295 persons."
"Every time there is development growth, there is also a population growth and this population growth is made up of non-indigenous people and this impacts our own people. Today, for us, it is a real challenge to protect our forests.”
Surui said large
development brings negative social and
“Nowadays, forests in the Amazon are located inside indigenous lands. In territories that do not belong to indigenous groups, the forests do no exist anymore,” said Mr.Surui. “This is the reason why it is so difficult for us to keep the forests and that’s why we are looking for and struggling for a national policy whereby we have the support of the population in terms of utilizing everything sustainably that the forest gives to us.”
After being elected Paiter-Surui chief at age 17, Almir successfully:
“There is tendency in my
country to equate
development with cutting
down trees. This is what
we try to combat. We can
have development without
cutting down the trees,”
said Mr. Surui.
In 1992, the UN's Earth Summit recognized indigenous peoples’ rights to forests as a crucial way to preserve the world's environment and solve the environmental crisis. However, the process has been slow. Indigenous peoples continue lobbying governments for full legal rights and recognition of their traditional lands.
In many countries, indigenous peoples lack legal title to their lands. In other cases, if the tribes do have title, governments can revoke it at any time. Among the most significant abuses of human rights today are large development projects and the exploitation of natural resources in, or near, indigenous territories.
The UN Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous
The Surui Tribe's
efforts to protect the
forests have not been
Last year, the lives of
12 Surui leaders were
threatened. Today, 7 leaders
are the subjects of
threats. They are under
the protection of the
both the police and
Mr Surui said the basic struggle is how to recognize the value of forests and how forests contribute to the continuity of human life.
“My people, the Surui, have a very close relationship with the forest. We are born in the forest; the forest is everything to us. The forest teaches us things, gives us our food and medicines. It supplies materials for our spiritual life. All of these things, the forest offers to us, it is part of our lives,” he said.
With Google Earth technology, the Paiter-Surui tribe can monitor the forests and report illegal logging activity on the edges of its territory.
“It’s a real challenge for us to keep our forest as it once was,” said Mr. Surui. “I’m not saying that the forests should remain untouched. What I am saying is that forests must be respected, admired and used in a way that enables us to be able to continue having a relationship with them.”