- Samela Sateré Mawé, a leading voice among Brazil’s Indigenous youth, spoke to Mongabay about the importance of social media to Indigenous peoples as a means to carry out their activism.
- Samela also spoke about the videos she produces for an Indigenous audience, which seek to tackle and explain topics that are difficult to understand through conventional media: “Making didactic videos on the internet is about trying to simplify and democratize the news, so everyone can understand what is really happening.”
- Having recently attended COP27, the UN climate change conference, Samela shared her feelings on the event as well as her perspectives for 2023.
“Nothing for us without us.” On a video published on Instagram by the Fundação Amazônia Sustentável (FAS – Sustainable Amazon Foundation), Samela Sateré Mawé, a young activist, appears in a room at the most high-profile climate-related event of the year: the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP27, which was held in Egypt in November. Her message is simple: Indigenous people must be involved in decision-making processes relating to the measures that must be taken to deal with environmental issues.
A graduate in biology from Amazonas State University, Samela Sateré Mawé is a leading voice among Brazil’s Indigenous youth and uses her online presence to further her activist and educational activities. Samela echoes the words of the recently elected Indigenous Brazilian federal congresswoman Sônia Guajajara in highlighting the need to “lay claim to the screens and occupy social media.”
Check out Samela’s interview with Mongabay:
Mongabay: You are part of a lineage of women that has been forged in the fight for the rainforest and Indigenous peoples. Your grandmother, even, was the founder of the Associação de Mulheres Indígenas Sateré Mawé [Sateré Mawé Indigenous Women’s Association]. Can you tell us about the influence that your female relatives and ancestors have had in shaping you into the activist you are today?
Samela Sateré Mawé: Being born into the Sateré Mawé Indigenous Women’s Association, I have always experienced what it is to be part of the struggle — the sense of the collective, the meetings, the demonstrations, the protests, listening to the words spoken by my grandmother and my mother, as well as other women in the Indigenous movement — and all of this has been essential in shaping me as a women, as an activist and as an Amazonian. Their influence was vital for me. They paved the way and opened doors for me, and I am very grateful to them for everything that they did. My grandmother founded this association in 1990 and we are still living here to this day, flying its flag. It’s an association that survives on a DIY attitude, the struggle and resilience.
Mongabay: We have begun to see the emergence of a growing number of female Indigenous leaders. This year, Sônia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá were elected as federal congresswomen. To what do you attribute this greater presence, or greater visibility of Indigenous women in spaces mostly occupied by white men?
Samela Sateré Mawé: Indigenous women have increasingly come to play a leading role inside the Indigenous movement. In the past, it was only the men who left their villages and their territory to go and talk about the issues concerning Indigenous peoples, such as health care, education, the demarcation of Indigenous territories and those sorts of things. But when we see Indigenous women raising their voices, we feel more represented as part of the Indigenous movement’s struggle.
We still suffer a lot of violence and abuse inside this space, since most Indigenous peoples are patriarchal societies [too], [but] Indigenous women have strength, the care and the generational knowledge of what it is to be a woman, right? And bringing this to the Indigenous movement, having strong female protagonists, such as Sônia Guajajara and Célia [Xakriabá], who were elected as federal congresswomen and who now represent our people in a bigger sphere, which is the sphere of politics. … For me this is really important, it’s really important to have women occupying these spaces. It’s about representativeness, really.
Mongabay: Txai Suruí, a young female Indigenous leader, usually uses the expression “demarcation of screens” — coined by the federal congresswoman Sônia Guajajara — to talk about the importance of Indigenous peoples maintaining a presence on social media in order to inform the debate, speak out and celebrate issues related to Indigenous peoples and the preservation of the biomes that we live in. What does this virtual territory mean to you?
Samela Sateré Mawé: It was actually in 2020, during the pandemic, when we were unable to hold our Acampamento Terra Livre [an event that sought to mobilize the Indigneous peoples of Brazil around their constitutional rights], which has been held for 17 years. On this occasion, we had to hold the event online. So, Sônia Guajajara came up with the term “let’s demarcate the screens and occupy social media.” From there, we held the largest Acampamento Terra Livre online that there had ever been. There was a month of events, a month where Indigenous women learned what a livestream was, what a Google Meet was, what Zoom was, what social media was and the importance of the internet for the Indigenous struggle.
I also talk about the importance of “demarcating the screens and occupying social media,” because as well as it being an important tool in the struggle and resistance to preserve our environment, it is also a way to simplify, deconstruct and decolonize culture and what people think of in relation to Indigenous peoples. For me, it’s vital to have an Indigenous presence on social media. I always talk about how our ancestors fought with the tools that they had and how we now have a tool that can be used to reach far and wide — that is, the internet, social media and technology — and that we need to use this to our advantage. So this is what this virtual territory is about. We are digital guerrilla fighters.
Mongabay: You usually produce a lot of didactic video content for Instagram and YouTube. How do you choose what topics to cover and how is the script produced?
Samela Sateré Mawé: The content production came a lot from the desire to deconstruct and simplify the news. In conventional media we see a lot of news items that are full of stereotypes and errors when it comes to Indigenous peoples; and also when people talk about laws, about issues and about legislative bills, it can be hard to make sense of what they are saying.
What we really needed to do was to democratize the news, make our relatives understand what was being said in the big newspapers, in the mainstream media, on TV news segments and so on. Because often, when there’s a big text [about Indigenous issues], our relatives — even the younger ones — will often not understand it. The same thing sometimes happens when there’s a news segment on TV, it’s hard to understand. Sometimes terms are used in reference to us Indigenous peoples that are totally incorrect. So, our way of creating educational videos to be posted online is born out of this need to make the news more simple, more democratic, so that everyone understands what is really happening.
The choosing of issues to be covered is directly related to what the pressing issues of the day are: such as when there is a land invasion of an Indigenous territory, when a new piece of legislation is proposed [that will affect Indigenous peoples] or when there is a very strong political issue in the country and the issue needs to be discussed by us Indigenous peoples and for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, to understand it. That’s where the simplification of news items, themes and issues comes in.
Mongabay: Do the elder members of the Sateré Mawé community watch your audiovisual content? What do they think about it?
Samela Sateré Mawé: [The consumption of] audiovisual content is still very difficult for my people in particular. Very few villages have access to the internet, let alone access to Instagram. At most they have access to WhatsApp and Facebook. So the issue of content creation, or entering this digital landscape, is still something very new. But they see it as an important means of reaching other Indigenous peoples and as a means of representing ourselves in this [digital] environment.
Mongabay: You have just come back from COP27, which took place in Egypt and featured a large Brazilian delegation. Overall, how would you evaluate the event?
Samela Sateré Mawé: I came off the back of my experience at COP26, which took place last year, and which was totally different to this COP27 event. We went to COP26, which was much more about speaking out against the threats that we were facing — and still face, of course —but that were being incentivized by the federal government. This time around at COP27, it was a little different because it was happening while Brazil is under a transitional administration [after the elections], so we are hopeful that our demands will be heard. But this time around our struggle was more about people taking us, Indigenous peoples, into consideration when it comes to these big meetings about the environment, climate change and everything else. Because we want to be protagonists in the defense of our territory, of the environment.
What we brought to the table was this issue of “nothing is for us without us,” so that when people debate about issues relating to our territory, our lives, the biomes we live in and about the preservation of what we have already been preserving for years, it’s only fair that we are included and part of these debates. We really need to go on with the search for social justice, for environmental justice. And that’s why we were at COP.
Of course, they were spaces for coming up with ideas, not for making decisions. And we had next to no contact with politicians, with the people who make the decisions, who propose laws, veto bills and everything else. But we were in that space. But we do also need to dialogue with the politicians, the people who are debating these issues. We must include Indigenous people in the federal government’s governance plan, because we are the original peoples of this country and COP27 only proved just how divided our country is, because the politicians did not debate much with the Indigenous peoples, they did not invite us to debate, they did not seek us for dialogue. But we were there, putting our faces to the fore to show that we did care about what they were saying there, and that we were there to keep an eye on them, to denounce everything.
Mongabay: A letter of intent, written by young Amazonians, which proposed room for participation in the Consórcio Amazônia Legal [Legal Amazon Consortium], was submitted at COP27. Tell us, in more detail, what this document is about.
Samela Sateré Mawé: We, the young people of the Amazon, wrote a letter to the Legal Amazon Consortium. We came together to write this letter. We called for the demarcation of Indigenous territories, the inclusion of young people by means of a youth council, so that we are consulted when it comes to these big agreements on the global stage, big agreements that concern the Amazon biome. We are calling for young people to be included in these spaces, for them to have a turn, a voice and a say when people are finalizing big deals, big enterprises within our territory and our biome, and we are calling for young people to have a place in this new transitional government.
Mongabay: As well as your trip to Egypt, you have taken part in events about environmental issues in a number of countries. How have you been received by foreigners around the world? Did you sense any change in how you were received after the result of the presidential elections?
Samela Sateré Mawé: Going to other countries, having to leave your community, your territory, your city to go and talk about the impacts of climate change and about the effects of the consequences of other people’s actions on your own territory is something that pains me greatly because we never wanted to leave our land to go and tell people, “Wow, just look here at what you are doing,” about the consequences of their actions [telling them], “You need to stop, you need to consult us, we have to dialogue, we have to have a debate.” It’s really difficult, but I believe that with the incoming government, we will be able to have a more open dialogue and our land will be better preserved.
Mongabay: What are your perspectives for 2023? What do you think you will post on social media next year regarding environmental and human rights issues?
Samela Sateré Mawé: I hope that we can really push the issue of the demarcation of Indigenous territories, that we can push for more policies tailored to our peoples’ needs and push for more Indigenous representatives in the National Congress as well as in other spaces.
I hope that I don’t have to post anything more about violence, about abuses, murders, deforestation and forest fires in Indigenous territories. I don’t want to talk about this any longer on social media, I only want to talk about demarcation, health care, education, representation and these sorts of things.
Mongabay: The interview started with a question about the women in your family who came before you, about the importance of your family history to who you are today. Now, to finish with a question that looks to the future: what kind of ancestor do you want to be for those who are to come?
Samela Sateré Mawé: When we say that the future is ancestral, we are trying to make people turn inward, turn toward their inner selves and see that we are also the forest, we are also the planet and that we are part of the Earth. And that we are the future and that this is completely connected to our past, our ancestors, because when we understand ourselves as part of a biome, part of an ecosystem and as part of a whole, [we will understand that] we will not degrade.