Inspiring Thursday: Sônia Guajajara

“Women around the world are starring in many fighting fronts. Indigenous women are committed to uniting all the rest of the world” (El Pais, 2019).

Sônia Guajajara

Sônia Guajajara was born on the 6th March of 1974 in a small village in the Amazon rainforest, Maranhão, Brazil. She is known worldwide for her fierce and bold activism and for defending indigenous and environmental rights in the face of pressure from some of the most powerful sectors of Brazilian society. Her engagement with indigenous rights started at a very young age. With only 15 years old she created the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio).

As a leader in Brazil’s indigenous movement, Sonia has represented indigenous people in various international events. In 2005, she participated on the twenty-first session Conference of the Parties (COP), concerning the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Paris. A charismatic figure, Guajajara has been the subject of several documentaries and news reports in magazines, newspapers, national and international television. She has received several awards and honours; among them, the Order of Cultural Merit (Ordem do Mérito Cultural) from the Brazilian Ministry of Culture and the 18th of January Medal by the Centre for the Promotion of Citizenship and Human Rights Defenders. In 2015, she was awarded the Medal of Honour of the Government of the State of Maranhão for the great articulation with governmental agencies during the period of the fires in the Indigenous Territory of Araribóia.

Guajajara studied at an agricultural college in Minas Gerais (South-eastern Brazil) and continued her studies at the Federal University of Maranhão. Guajajara is the leader and executive coordinator of the Articulation of the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil), an organization that represents over 300 indigenous ethnic groups in Brazil. This organization works to achieve indigenous rights in Brazil, including the right to legal recognition of land.

Between 2000 and 2018, 42 Guajajara Indigenous People were murdered. According to the data published by the Indigenous Missionary Council, in the first nine months of 2019, there were 160 cases of invasion of 153 Indigenous Lands in 19 states. In an interview to El Pais, Guajajara affirmed “People see us as wild. We are people who fight, we stand up to conflicts and we have a very different respect for the environment. We need our rights to be guaranteed. Also, our way of life, both by societies and governments” (El Pais, 2019).

As one the most dynamic advocates in Brazil for human rights, Sônia Guajajara brings the voice of Brazil’s indigenous peoples to the world. She is truly an inspiration!

Written by Mariana Cunha, WAVE Intern

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