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Chief Raoni : ‘This dam floods our territory’

Chief Raoni : ‘This dam floods our territory’

Kayapo chieves Megaron Txucarramae and Raoni Metuktire inside the lobby of dutch company Arcadis in Amsterdam © Gert-Peter Bruch

Source : Het Parool
Chief Raoni on the Zuidas (The Netherlands), Brazilian Chief protests at engineering company Arcadis against dam in Amazon side-river. Chief Raoni spoke yesterday with a company that is involved with constructing a dam that will make life impossible for his people. 

You can’t feel being further away from home as an Indian. Surrounded by sky-scrapers Chief Raoni stands on the Gustav Mahlerplein. In the heart of The Zuidas, his shoes soaked by the snow. The 82 Year old Chief of the Brazilian Kayapo is shaking in the cold. The disc in his lower-lip is going up and down.

At first chief Raoni reacts with anger, he ducks and his entourage calls out “No pictures, No Pictures!” in English. The party moves into a building’s lobby. His assistant later explains why the chief reacted so defensively to the presence of a photographer.”The chief fears that these pictures would end up in the Brazilian Media and that they would start the story of him signing a contract with the Arcadis engineering company.” The chief stresses that he is in Amsterdam on his own accord. He is visiting Arcadis who is involved in building the dam in the Xingu River (a tributary of the Amazon River) in North Brazil. Because of this dam the continued existence of Chief Raoni’s people is threatened. ”Our lives are at stake, also constructing this dam is in direct violation of the international rights of indigenous people”.

Once inside Chief Raoni seems to show an amiable smile. Before he gets into the elevator which will take him and his company to the 24th floor he takes off his coat and puts on his plumage.

The Christmas-tree in the building, the stainless steel plating of the elevator which seems to shoot up the building like a rocket, he doesn’t seem to mind these things at all.

“We do not want war, but we live from fishery and hunting”.

In the meeting room he is welcomed by Joost Slooten, director of corporate responsibility within Arcadis. Without any hesitation he walks towards the most important chair at the table. It is clear, here sits someone with authority. There aren’t many people considered tougher than him. The chief is a known personality and a famous champion for the rights of indigenous people. The singer “Sting” has worked with him and before he attended the Zuidas he met with Dutch Minister Lilianne Ploumen of foreign trade and development-cooperation. Earlier this week the Indian had a conversation with the French President Francois Hollande.

All of his life Chief Raoni has fought for the rights of Indians. In 1989 he lifted some eyebrows when he attended a conference about the Amazon Rainforest in Altamira, a city at the banks of the Xingu River. This marked the start of an ever increasing support for the preservation of the rainforest and the recognition of the people living there. The subject of the dam is an ongoing matter in Brazil and has led to lawsuits many times. According to Chief Raoni great parts of the area, where the almost 10.000 strong Kayapo tribe lives, will get flooded. Arcadis disputes this. Slooten has agreed to the meeting because he would like to stay in contact with the Indians. “We are a transparent company, so if people want to talk to us, we are open to conversation”. The disputed Belo Monte dam is part of dozens of dams over a length of a hundred kilometers. The purpose of the dam is to provide a large power supply to an important part of Brazil. The conversation between the entrepreneur and the Indian continues behind closed doors. When asked halfway through the conversation if the meeting has provided some results the chief does not respond. But afterwards when the meeting ends the Chief states he was happy to have spoken with Arcadis even though he realizes he does not have much chance against big companies with big economical interests.

But Chief Raoni is not giving up. “We do not want war with the white man but we cannot give up our fight, because in the areas where we live, we are dependent upon fishery and hunting. The Brazilian government has decided to build this dam without our consent, but relocating us is not an option. We have to continue our cause.”

© Het Parool - Marc Kruyswijk - translated from dutch language by Sander Pilet

Date : 07/12/2012