Indigenous people are dying due to international consumerism.

Photo of smoke rising from the Amazon as seen from outer space | Originally from qz.com

It’s easy to feel distant and helpless from our little city in the Midwest~4,000 miles away from the Amazon fires.

The Amazon provides 20% of the world’s oxygen, the lungs of the Earth are ablaze. Currently there is little to no media coverage of this disaster. Last week, NASA produced photos from space showing smoke coming from the rainforest. An estimated one million Indigenous people living in the Amazon are at risk of physical harm and losing their homes.

Indigenous populations living in the Amazon have long experienced violence over land preservation. There are countless examples, such as the nine men who were stabbed or shot dead over a territorial dispute in a remote area of Mato Grosso state, deep in the Amazon rainforest. In 2017, a study found that an average of four Indigenous people die per week resisting land destruction, most of them in South America. As an Indigenous person from Peru whom had to migrate, I mourn daily with the news of my people dying.

Many suggest reforestation projects as a solution, though preventative measures that ban deforestation altogether prove to be more effective. Reforestation is a challenging task. Jessika Toothman writes:

Firstly, rainforests are full of ancient, gigantic trees; these aren’t the saplings you buy at your local nursery. Much of the action of a rainforest’s ecosystem takes place in the lofty upper reaches, which can present problems for reforestation efforts since towering trees take decades to grow. Secondly, rainforest trees closely rely on their evolutionary playmates — the surrounding flora and fauna — to create the delicate conditions needed to sustain functions such as nutrient cycles and pollination.
So while rainforests provide a flourishing habitat for life, the success of that habitat relies on a fragile balance of ecological factors. Take away the trees and you have a major problem. But if the soil’s bacteria and other microorganisms, which break down the nutrient-rich organic matter that tumbles to the dark forest floor are also eliminated, the rainforest is destroyed. If the insects and birds that act as critical pollinators go extinct, life will falter.

This is why I plead with all those in my city, state, surrounding area — please stop consuming Indigenous practices and cultures as your own. I live in Toledo, and explaining this consumption to non-Indigenous people proves tiring and difficult every day. I often receive push back that “spirituality belongs to everyone” when I mention that our forests are overwhelmed and over harvested. Sometimes I hear people talk of Indigenous people in the past tense, “they used to do this, and they would want me to…” Indigenous people are here, alive, right now. Now that the Amazon is burning, will you listen?

Here are some ways you can help:

  1. Stop buying Palo Santo and other herbs from South America.
    Smudging is rising in popularity, but this is a sacred practice passed down from generation to generation in certain Indigenous tribes. Palo santo has become so popular, one can now purchase bundles at chain stores and even at the mall. In order for the tree where Palo Santo comes from to fully release essential oils, it must sit on the rainforest ground years after the tree has died naturally. The trees live an average of 40–50 years. Cutting down the trees to speed up the production process to meet market demands completely negates the spiritual value of the practice. Find alternatives that are local to our region — lavender and basil work just as well for rituals in Ohio.
  2. Generally stick to buying food items and crops from your region.
    “Exotic” foods are also being over harvested. Trees from the Amazon are often cut down and discarded to make room for agricultural land. North American and European countries are creating a large demand for such foods, quinoa being an example. In addition, cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Wherever you are able, ensure that the meat and animal products you consume are local.
  3. Find Indigenous groups to support in your region.
    Do you know whose land you live on? Can you name what tribes were displaced for your neighborhood or development to exist? Find out at at native-land.ca. Do you know of associations near you and the resources they may be looking for? Supporting the work of Indigenous people worldwide ensures that land preservation remains at the forefront of our political discourse.
  4. Donate (but don’t go on a mission trip or tourist trip).
    While your physical presence may mean something to you, it does not help people on the ground already doing the work. Don’t co-opt the grassroots efforts that have grown over time, it’s better to donate instead. That $1,000 ticket to fly to Brazil? There are organizations that could take that money and use it for significant impact. Amazon Watch is one of many organizations one should consider.

This list is non-exhaustive and there are many other organizations to support. Find local groups fighting for climate and racial justice. Join groups and networks, even if you just start online. Surviving these catastrophes requires us to demand moral and fair practices, upholding Indigenous land sovereignty, and as always, remaining as vigilant as possible. It is our duty to care for each other, it is our duty to defend Mother Earth.

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