Brazilian Indigenous Leaders Turn Up Heat On Catholic Organization

Steve Zwick

Prominent leaders from nine indigenous peoples of the Amazon say the Acre State branch of Brazil’s powerful Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) is intentionally sabotaging a program that has enabled them to save their forests. In an open letter dated July 31, 2017, they called on prominent Catholic organizations to investigate CIMI Acre. Here is the full text of that letter.

1 Sept 2017 | The Indigenous Missionary Council  – known as “CIMI” (for “Conselho Indigenista Missionário”) – has often sparred with elected indigenous leaders, and it engaged in a high-profile feud with the Amazon Working Group in 2015, after the Working Group – a network of 600 small nonprofits generally known by its Portuguese acronym, “GTA” (for “Grupo de Trabalho Amazonico”) – accused CIMI of fomenting dissent among members of the Paiter Surui indigenous people in an effort to undermine the Surui Forest Carbon Project.

In July, indigenous leaders accuse CIMI Acre of trying to disrupt the state’s System of Incentives for Environmental Services  (Sistema de Incentivos a Serviços Ambientais  / “SISA”), which funnels carbon finance to indigenous people to promote sustainable agriculture. CIMI has long argued that market-based systems are not compatible with indigenous traditions.

Although the letter was sent in July, the English translation just became available today. We are posting this for information purposes, but have not yet been able to reach CIMI or the other organizations addressed. We will follow up and post their responses as soon as possible. Here is the full text of the letter:

We indigenous and agroforestry leaders and agents of the Huni Kui, Jaminawa, Ashaninka, Nukini, Nawa, Yawanawa, Katuquina, Puyanawa, Shanenawa e Shawãdawa peoples, gathered here in Rio Branco, at the Forest Peoples’ Training Center on July 28-31, as part of the General Assembly of the Association of the Movement of Indigenous Agroforestry Agents of Acre (Assembleia Geral da Associação do Movimento dos Agentes Agroflorestais Indígenas do Acre– AMAAIAC), come to inform the public that we will not tolerate the irresponsible actions of a group of people who, opposed to the REDD+ mechanism in Acre, is making declarations using the name of indigenous peoples in order to legitimize their criticisms.

This group holds meetings and other gatherings, and references our peoples without actually saying who the indigenous people who participate in these meetings are. On one occasion, this group presented signatures of various indigenous people, being cowardly enough to deceive those who signed, as the discussion on REDD+ and environmental services is highly complex and took six years to understand, from 2007 to 2012.

It is a fact that this group is in bad faith in it’s discussions about the forest and indigenous peoples,as, for example, what occurred at the COP 20 during the panel of the Governors’ Taskforce on Climate and Forests. Here, they stated that all of us indigenous people who have projects supported by the government of Acre, are treated like illiterates and are being fooled. This was revealed during the plenary session of the same panel, as some of us were present.

We see that the “No REDD Acre” group is not committed to public programs. This group talks, talks and talks but does not put forward solutions to any of the problems that we face, let alone help us achieve sustainability in our indigenous lands.

We are defenders of the forest. We are the ones who protect, preserve, conserve and have our true essence and spirituality in the forest. Our shamans do not need any non-indigenous person to tell us that we want the forest to be alive, green and full of good spirits. We depend on it for our lives and livelihood..

Regarding REDD+ mechanism in Acre, we must say to this group that it is not authorized to speak for indigenous associations included in the REM Global Program (REDD for Early Movers ). We are not stupid, as suggested by documents you publish, and we do not have pacts with any government. We maintain our autonomy and access project resources to which we have a right.

For those of us who project the forest, the REM Program is an incentive for this work. It does not represent payment, sale, or compensation. Moreover, we were included in projects that respect our ways of life, our cultures and languages.

This incentive supported various ceremonial centers and many of our traditional celebrations. And this is what most strengthens our peoples. Therefore, insisting that we are selling our forests, as the “non-REDD group” affirms, leads us to ask what interests motivate them.

They have never spoken with us and never consulted us. How is it that they say we are prevented from living freely on our indigenous lands due to the program’s incentive? It is important for them to get to know the Territorial and Environmental Management Plans and mapping that we carried out on our indigenous lands, which contain our agreements and practices on the use, management and conservation of our natural resources.

It surprises us that the Indigenist Missionary Council of Acre[1] (CIMI Acre) lives to conspire, use bad faith and provoke strife between us indigenous peoples. We make it clear to CIMI Acre that we who sign this letter are aware of what we do and what we want and we know very well where we have to join together, respecting the autonomy of each people.

We are using this as an opportunity to ask if the national coordinator of CIMI knows what CIMI Acre is doing with indigenous peoples in this discussion of the REDD+ mechanism. And the president of the National Council of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB)?  Can it be that he knows that CIMI Acre is behaving irresponsibly, in bad faith and is trying to harm us? Which side is CIMI on?

We make it clear that CIMI and its partners can be against what they wish: REDD, environmental services, etc. But CIMI and its partners have no right to use the names of the indigenous peoples of Acre to oppose the state government. CIMI Acre should settle it’s hatred of  the state government with the government and leave us out of it. We know how to talk, negotiate and fight with any government that disrespects us. We do not need CIMI Acre’s “defense,” which in the case of REDD+ mechanisms, is unreal and inconsistent.

We ask for action from the national CIMI regarding this matter. We invite the national coordinator to come to Acre to get to know us and talk to us. Know who we are.

For the “not REDD Acre group,” we ask that they be responsible and honest and show serious commitments, instead of making statements  without consulting us. We already have more than enough enemies and threats.

We affirm that in Acre, the administration of public policies is the result of struggles that took place over many years. Here, nothing will enter without respecting and guaranteeing our rights.


Rio Branco, July 31, 2017


Kampa do Igarapé Primavera

Fernando Kampa Ashaninka


Pedro Evaristo Muniz

Kampa Isolados do Rio Envira

Vagner Ashaninka


Milton Carneiro

Kampa do Rio Amônia

José Valdeci da Silva Piyako

Francisco da Silva Piyako


Katukina Kaxinawá

Antonio Jose Barbosa Kaxinawá

Ismael Menezes Brandão Shanenawa

Antonio José Barbosa Kaxinawá

Edmar da Silva Kaxinawa

Edileuda Gomes de Araujo Shanenawa

Marcos Brandão Shanenawa

José Rodolfo da Silva

Praia do Carapanã

Francisco Edimilson Ferreira

Marciano Sabino Pereira

Ivan Sereno Peres

Amiraldo Sereno Kaxinawá

Nova Olinda

Evanildo da Silva Albuquerque Kaxinawá

Antonio de Carvalho Kaxinawá


João Sereno Kaxinawa

Lucas Sales Kaxinawá

Josias Pereira Kaxinawá

Seringal Independencia

Adriano Macário Sales

Rio Gregório

Idelson de Souza Araújo Katukina

Marcos Katukina da Silva

Antonio Celino Neto Yawanawa

Juscelino Costa Nascimento

Aldino Pequeno

Igarapé Humaitá

José Salustiano Nogueira

Janison Bayakuni

Antonio José Dantas de Lima Arara

Josué Pereira Cazuza

Damião Lima de Melo

Francisco Dantas Varela

Alto Purus

Tomas Rodrigues kaxinawá

Pedro Roberto Salomão

Isaac Augusto Pinheiro Kaxinawá

Jesus Camilo

André Sampaio Pinheiro Kaxinawá

Jorge Domingos Kaxinawá

Francisco Lopes Augusto Kaxinawá

Kaxinawá do Rio Humaitá

Ronaldo Saboia Kaxinawá

Igarapé do Caucho

Antonio Renildo Kaxinawá

José Francisco de Sousa Silva

Janete Aparecida Kaxinawá Silva

Raimundo Ferreira Kaxinawá

Nova Olinda

Antonio de Carvalho Kaxinawá


Valmar José Silva Pereira Kaxinawa

Katukina do Campinas

Alfredo Jaqueira Katukina

Marcelino Rosa da Silva Katukina

Edilson Rosa da Silva Katukina


José Marcondes Poyanawa

Lucas Azevedo do Nascimento

Colônia 27

Raimundo Martins Mateus

Manuel Gomes


Ronildo Meireles da Silva Jaminawa

Rosimeire Afonso de Souza


Indigenous Organizations:

Organization of Indigenous Teachers of Acre (Organização dos Professores Indígenas do Acre –OPIAC)

Association of the Movement of Indigenous Agroforestry Agents of Acre (Associação do Movimento dos Agentes agroflorestais Indígenas do Acre– AMAAIAC)

Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Tarauacá (Organização dos Povos Indígenas de Tarauacá – OPITAR)

Association of Kaxinawá Producers of the Paroá (Associação dos Produtores Kaxinawá do Paroá – APROKAP)

Poyanawa Agroextractivist Association of the Barão and Ipiranga (Associação Agro- Extrativista Poyanawa do Barão e Ipiranga – AAPBI)

Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Juruá (Organização dos Povos Indígenas do Juruá – OPIRJ)

Shanenawá Vakaynu Cooperative (Cooperativa Shanenawá Vakaynu)

Organization of Kaxinawá Farmers of the Colony 27 Indigenous Land (Organização dos Agricultores Kaxinawá da Terra Indígena da Colônia 27 -OAKAT 27)

Nukini Indigenous Association (Associação Indígena Nukini – AIN)

Association of Kaxinawá Producers of Praia do Carapanã (Associação dos Produtores e Criadores Kaxinawá da Praia do Carapanã – ASKAP)

Association of the Shawadawa People of the Igarapé Humaitá (Associação do Povo Shawadawa do Igarapé Humaitá – APSIH)



[1] The Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI) was founded by the National Council of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) in 1972 to work on indigenous rights issues, and has regional branches, such as CIMI Acre, across Brazil.

Steve Zwick is a freelance writer and produces the Bionic Planet podcast. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace, and prior to that he covered European business for Time Magazine and Fortune Magazine and produced the award-winning program Money Talks on Deutsche Welle Radio in Bonn, Germany.

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