EXETER, United Kingdom — Each year, the Goldman Environmental Prize awards leaders from all around the world who have made a positive environmental impact. One of the winners of this year’s Goldman Prize is Alessandra Korap Munduruku, a 38-year-old Brazilian native woman who led the movement that pushed a British mining company to withdraw 27 research applications to conduct mining activities in the Indigenous lands of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Apart from the impacts of deforestation, mining activities have led to mercury contamination that has resulted in diseases and mortality among the Munduruku tribe, Survival International reports. Mining in indigenous lands gives rise to several human rights issues. Through indigenous activism, local activists are creating change.
Fighting Environmentally Harmful Practices
Alessandra Korap Munduruku is part of the Munduruku group located in the Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory. She has more than a decade’s worth of experience in dismantling environmentally harmful practices and protecting indigenous lands and rights.
From 2017 to 2018, Munduruku worked as coordinator of the Pariri Indigenous Association, established in 1988 for the protection of the Munduruku tribe’s rights. In 2018, she started studying law in order to gain the knowledge and skills to better protect the rights of Indigenous peoples.
Munduruku’s Indigenous Activism Campaign
In 2020, Munduruku started a campaign along with other members of her tribe against Anglo-American mining applications after becoming aware of the company inhabiting the indigenous territory. The campaign’s activities involved a mix of fundraising, consultation with the Munduruku tribe’s key leaders, organized patrols and documentation of mining’s damage to the land, which led to an official declaration that 45 chiefs and 200 participants signed, according to the Goldman Environmental Prize website.
In addition, Munduruku’s campaign partnered with Amazon Watch and the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB). Through this collaboration, the Munduruku tribe sent a letter to Anglo American demanding a response to their concerns and demands.
Anglo American gave into the Munduruku tribe’s demands in May 2022, largely due to the pressure from the campaign, its rising popularity through social media and the external support it received from notable organizations. In the end, the company withdrew 27 mining permits from Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory, according to the Goldman Environmental Prize website.
Aside from the prize money, the Goldman Environmental Prize awards its winners in several ways. For instance, the winners’ achievements are published on the winners’ websites, increasing the leaders’ usual audience to a more international one. Furthermore, winners are offered grants to improve their campaigns and access to conferences on professional development and skill-building events.
Winners also receive safety and security support services to safeguard them against possible threats of violence after the winners’ announcement. This is important considering that disgruntled individuals, oftentimes miners or supporters of President Bolsonaro’s anti-indigenous agenda, have targeted environmental defenders in the past. Munduruku herself has faced threats and violence — her home was invaded and burglarized twice, in 2019 and in 2021. The Munduruku villages have also faced violence and attacks, according to Amazon Watch.
Fighting for Indigenous Communities
Despite threats of violence, Munduruku continues to resist and fight to protect the environment and the rights of Indigenous people. Her fight is an important one since the taking of indigenous lands by companies is one of the causes of indigenous poverty, according to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA).
IWGIA highlights that Indigenous people are losing their natural sources of food due to mining activities. Mining activities destroy croplands, poison fish and oust animal life from their natural environment. Furthermore, mining activities lead to the displacement of Indigenous people from their homes on their native lands.
Through indigenous activism, local activists like Alessandra Korap Munduruku uphold the rights of Indigenous minorities and prevent poverty in Indigenous communities while protecting the environment and natural resources.
– Luciana Mena