Paiakan: A great Kayapo leader succumbs to coronavirus

June 16, 2020 — Paiakan was born in the 1950s in the historic village of Kubenkranken during the early era of Kayapo contact with non-indigenous society. Paiakan had a brilliant mind. He learned the Brazilian national language of Portuguese, likely effortlessly, and set out to explore and understand the new world that had reached Kayapo land. A great orator and tactician, Paiakan played an instrumental role in the struggles to gain the land rights of the eastern Kayapo and draft indigenous rights in the1988 constitution. He led the indigenous protest against the first version of the then World Bank-funded mega-hydro dam on the Xingu River at Altamira and, against all powerful interests, and famously won that battle. Paiakan grasped concepts of a foreign culture and understood the workings of the outside world as few, if any, of his brethren did. It was Paiakan who first recognized the potential power of the environmental movement as allies in the Kayapo struggle to protect their land and culture within an increasingly threatened landscape of forest destruction. This recognition and relationship-building with environmentalists planted the seeds which grew to become the three Kayapo NGOs: Associação Floresta Protegida, Instituto Kabu and Instituto Raoni, which together are responsible for protection of 90% of Kayapo territory — over 9 million hectares — the last large tract of forest surviving in the southeastern Amazon. The Kayapo have lost one of their greats. His legacy of fighting for indigenous rights lives on through his daughters who have taken up the torch. 

- Barbara Zimmerman, Kayapo Program Director

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