Indigenous women in Montreal rally, fundraise to support Amazonian warriors

A charity benefit held this weekend in Montreal raised over $3,000 for a group of Amazonian warriors working to fight rainforest fires and the genocidal policies of Brazilian Prime Minister Jair Bolsonaro.

Looking out at the audience gathered in the darkened venue in Montreal, activist Tayka Raymond said she couldn’t actually believe they were able to pull it off with only three weeks to plan.

When a spate of wildfires ravaged the Amazon rainforest, darkening the streets of Brazilian cities like Sao Paolo, the entire world held its breath.

But at the same time, groups like Associacao das Guerreiras Indigenas de Rondonia (AGIR) – the Association of Indigenous Warriors of Rondonia – kickstarted a mobilization movement to denounce destruction of the so-called  ‘Lungs of the Earth.’

Women over 8,000 kilometers away in Montreal heard the same call to action, and were compelled to help.

“Women are just known naturally to work very fast when it comes to coordinating things, getting things together,” explained activist Shannon Chief, who hails from Barrier Lake First Nation.

A seasoned environmental defender herself, Chief and Raymond joined forces with a ‘collective of individuals’ – including the Colletivo Brasil-Montreal – to pull together an expansive charitable showcase, a silent auction, and a traditional feast in record time.

Performances by a drumming circle, jingle dancers, an international choir, a motivational hip-hop artist, a classically trained opera singer, and Brazilian dance troupe were meant to highlight solidarity across borders, and nurture conversation about common issues.

“Once you start meeting or connecting yourself to the people down south, and they shared with you all these different things that are going on, you start to carry something in a way and want to be able to help in any way possible,” Chief explained.

For those hailing from Brazil, it was a chance to share cultural staples, like lively folk music and frenetic dancing, which lately have been overshadowed by the country’s divisive leadership.

However, Alessandra Devulsky, a university professor and co-founder of the Colletivo Brasil-Montreal, says that the uptake in activism following the outbreak of fires has only affirmed the crucial role of women in the resistance.

“There’s a horror and a beauty to those processes,” Devulsky said. “These are women who are giving a stunning lesson to all the Leftists in Brazil, to all the movements of resistance. When you have no money and when you’re historically oppressed, how you can still resist.”

Despite the persisting scourge in her home country, she adds that it’s hard to be unmoved by the tenacity of the Indigenous women in the Amazon fighting for their inherent rights.

“These women will establish grassroots movements; these are women who understand that social movements have to start from the bottom up,” she explained.

The proceeds of Saturday’s event, will directly benefit the Association of Indigenous Warriors of Rondonia; founded in 2015, the non-profit, non-partisan group works to empower Indigenous women and assert territorial rights in the era of Bolsonaro.

Even after donating money to further the warriors’ cause, Chief says the event will have more positive implications. She’s planning on showing footage of the performances and speeches to a four-country delegation of Indigenous women in Panama as proof of collective impact ahead of a possible World Water Summit as soon as 2020.

“I think the most important thing today, about being a woman, is being aware of what’s going on in the world and just trying to do something about it,” Chief said.

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