This week, an extraordinary story of hope unfolded in the Amazon. A public plea from the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe threatened with forceful eviction from their ancestral lands inspired a young student to start an online petition to save them. In hours it spread like wild fire across the web and against all the odds – they won.
The tribe, horrified by the prospect of being forced off their land, had refused to leave the area alive, declaring that they would die together – as 50 men, 50 women, and 70 children – if the government followed through on an order to evict them. An Avaaz community petition in support of their cause attracted nearly 300,000 signatures in just a few days.
And the pressure worked. Yesterday, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued an order to the government agency for indigenous policies, giving it 30 days to initiate the process of designating the land as a protected area for the Guarani indigenous people.
In the Brazilian media, a prosecutor involved in the case made it clear just how important a role the internet played in this victory, claiming: "The social networks mobilisation was definitive to reach this outcome. It has generated a reaction seldom seen by the government when we are talking about indigenous rights."
A heartbreaking plea
The voices of the Guarani-Kaiowa community were able to travel to Brazil's highest chambers of power. Here is their devastating letter to the world, quoted in the petition:
The way we interpret this news is that our community will soon be attacked, abused and forcibly removed from the riverbank by the federal court of Navirai, MS. It is quite clear to us that the federal court's action will create and accelerate the attacks against us, ignoring our rights to survive by the side of the river, and close to our traditional territory Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay.
Here in the heart of our territory several of our grandparents and great-grandparents are buried, this is the cemetery of our ancestors. Acutely aware of this historical fact, our desire is to die here, and be buried here, with our ancestors, right where we are today. So we ask the government and the federal court not to bother with the eviction, but rather ask that you authorise our collective death, and allow us all to be buried here. We ask, once and for all, that the court declares our total extinction, and sends several bulldozers here to dig a hole big enough to bury us all inside. This is our request to the federal judiciary.
We now await this decision from the federal court, to authorise and declare the collective death of our Guarani tribe, and bury us all here. We have decided not to leave here, dead or alive, as we have no chance of surviving with dignity here in our territory. We have already suffered massacres, and our tribe is dying out fast. We know we will soon be driven away from the riverbank by the federal justice, but we will not move. As a historical indigenous native people, we have decided to stay here, and die together. We have no other option, please consider this our final and unanimous statement in regards to the decision of the federal court.
They're not alone
This is not an isolated case. Across Brazil and other countries in the region, indigenous people live with a daily fear of eviction and the threat of violence. The Guarani-Kaiowa were forced to take a bold stand, but their desperation speaks to a wider tragedy about the destruction of indigenous communities, which has been going on for generations.
These communities often appear powerless in the face of governments and corporate interests, but this victory shows that even in the most remote places there is hope – and that the internet can help save lives by connecting people and mobilising them to demand change.
"This is an extraordinary story about the power of technology and force of the human spirit – and how together they can push our leaders to bolster not bulldoze the rights of even the most isolated and threatened among us,” Pedro Abramovay, an Avaaz campaign director, said of the victory.
If you're feeling inspired, share this incredible story with everyone you know.