A historic win for the Ashaninka of Brazil as they receive compensation for deforestation on their land

On top of a 2.4 million dollar compensation, the indigenous Ashaninka people will receive an official apology from the companies who deforested their lands in the 1980s.

For over a century, the Ashaninka’s land stretching from Brazil to Peru has been devastated at the hands of rubber tappers, loggers, guerrilla fighters, drug traffickers and oil companies. After years of environmental abuse, the formal adoption of an economic settlement represents a truly historic win for indigenous rights. One, however, that can’t undo the injustices suffered throughout the years.

After enduring an over twenty year long legal battle, Ashaninka living in the Kampa do Rio Amônia reserve in the Brazilian state of Acre, close to the border with Peru, will receive 14 million Brazilian real (around 2.4 million US dollars) in compensation for the deforestation of their lands.

The Ashaninka aren’t opposed to development but simply wish for it to be carried out responsibly © LiadePaula/MinC/Flickr

The Ashaninka’s decades-long dispute

During the 1980s, thousands of mahogany and cedar trees (as well as many other Amazon plant species) were decimated by lumber companies owned by the Cameli family to fuel the European furniture industry. Part of the Ashaninka tribe’s lands were affected by the deforestation that took place between 1981 and 1987. In 1996, the Federal Public Ministry brought a Public Civil Action against the companies responsible for the destruction of the indigenous reserve.

Finally, the rights of this native people were formally recognised by Augusto Aras, Prosecutor General of the Republic, on the 1st of April through the signing of a settlement guaranteeing reparations for crimes committed almost 40 years ago. On top of the financial settlement, the incriminated companies will be required to present an official apology to the Ashaninka tribe.

An unprecedented agreement

This is the first time in the history of Brazilian law that something like this happens,” Ashaninka lawyer Antonio Rodrigo commented the signing of the agreement. “I’m so proud. It was hard, but wonderful,” he added.

The Prosecutor General also recognised the importance of this historic deal. “With this agreement, there is a feeling that we’re building a new moment of peace, harmony and above all understanding that wounds exist to be healed, not perpetuated,” said Aras.

Asháninka fishing
The Prosecutor General of the Republic recognised the unsustainable environmental impact inflicted on the Ashaninka’s land © Pedro França/MinC/Flickr

According to the Ashaninka’s lawyer, there’s more to the sentence than granting justice to the group. The settlement marks a key turning point in the safeguarding and protection of native peoples rights, acting as a precedent for thousands of similar cases of environmental crime and destruction.

Read more: A victory for the Matsés people. Pacific E&P stops oil extraction in the Amazon

Compensation goes into forest conservation

The Ashaninka will receive compensation via instalments within a five-year time frame. The group announced that it will hold an assembly every year to discuss how to spend the money. The overarching goal is to finance projects “that defend the community, Amazon, indigenous peoples and peoples of the forest”.

Read more: After 500 years of struggle, we won’t stop resisting. The Piaçaguera indigenous’ fight for land and identity in Brazil

“We’re calling for this region to be increasingly respected and valued, for its products to be placed on the market with added value, which will, in turn, serve to guarantee sustainability,” Ashaninka leader Francisco Piyãko explained to Mongabay news. His father, Antônio Piyãko, denounced the loggers’ invasion to the world through an open letter published in 1991.

ashaninka boy
“Our intention is for this official apology to be the recognition of an error committed and (a promise) that, from this point on, it will be repeated no longer,” says Ashaninka leader Francisco Piyãko © Pedro França/MinC/Flickr

Not everything has a price tag

More than the financial settlement, the Ashaninka value the incriminated company’s official apology for the suffering caused them as well as destruction of their land. “If there had been no acknowledgment of guilt, the indigenous people wouldn’t have taken the deal,” explains Rodrigo, the tribe’s attorney.

According to their leader, the formal apology carries deep meaning and symbolises a victory for all indigenous peoples around the world who have seen their lands and traditions threatened.

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