"The Earth is speaking: she tells us we have no more time." These were the words of Txai Suruí - a 24-year-old activist from the Brazilian Amazon - as she spoke at the opening ceremony of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the only Indigenous woman to do so.
“It is a huge responsibility to be representing Indigenous Peoples. We are a large and diverse group, with different cultures and realities. Some suffer with deforestation, others with illegal mining. I speak about the Amazon rainforest because it is the place I live and was born,” said Txai when talking about her experience in Glasgow.
The Brazilian Amazon featured heavily in the first week of climate talks, as leaders pledged to put an end to forest destruction by 2030. Not only have we heard similar commitments before which failed to translate into action, but the world’s forests cannot wait eight more years - deforestation in the Amazon jumped by 22% this year.
For Txai, climate change and deforestation are not separate issues, but intimately connected. “The Amazon is the biggest tropical forest of the world with a huge amount of biodiversity, richness of people and cultures. Therefore this discussion [to protect it] is important to the entire world. If there are no Indigenous Peoples, forests wouldn’t exist today.” Txai’s community has lived in the Amazon for more than 6,000 years.
Txai became a rights advocate due to her parents’ activism, especially her father Almir Suruí, one of the most prominent Indigenous leaders in the country. She is also the first Indigenous woman of her community to study law and is currently training to become an environmental lawyer.
“Any woman knows that wherever you are it is going to be difficult, people will also try to discredit you because of your age, by saying ‘you are too young, you need to learn’,” she adds.
Women who defend our environment too often face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence, as reported in our latest data on environmental defenders. After delivering her speech at COP26, Txai received threats and racist attacks via social media.
“As an Indigenous woman, I can say we also face racism and issues related to colonisation, so I think it is very important to be here in this space [COP26] because we will only be able to decolonise these places with our presence and our voices.”
This dynamic was fully present at COP26 in Glasgow, where over 500 lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry were welcomed through the doors of the debating halls, while the voices of Indigenous Peoples and citizens of countries most affected by the climate crisis were systematically excluded due to vaccine inequity, travel restrictions, high costs, and a litany of logistical failures at the venue itself.
Txai summed up why it is so important that people like her are involved in discussions about how we tackle the climate crisis: “The healing of our planet will happen thanks to and through the wisdom of Indigenous women. It is crucial that we are heard because we are the ones suffering the most with the climate crisis in our territories and despite that, we're fighting hard and already have solutions to put an end to this crisis.”