In June 2019, Vandria Borari visited the Netherlands following an invitation from Tim Boekhout van Solinge. Vandria is from the Borari indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon and she is the first indigenous lawyer from her region. In this interview, she speaks about her life in Brazil, the impact of the European Culture, the work of Forest Forces and what we, Europeans, can do to help improve the lives of indigenous people.
First, let’s talk about your culture. You’re part of the indigenous Borari community that lives in the Brazilian Amazone and you’re working hard to bring back your culture. How come your communities’ culture has disappeared in the first place?
We have had a really hard past. During the European colonisation in the Amazon, Portuguese missionaries invaded our territory. They killed indigenous leaders and created new rulers who forced the population to stop their rituals and their normal way of living. From that moment, indigenous people had to work to sustain Portugal and while doing that, they had to become Portuguese speaking Christians. This way, they forgot their own language and couldn’t perform their own religion. The indigenous people became slaves of the Portuguese and when they tried to resist, they were killed or imprisoned. They lost their culture because they were forced. These days, we try to bring it back.
Why do you think it is so important to bring back your culture?
Because people without culture are not people. Our culture unites us and maintains our harmony with our territory. On top of that, we want to preserve the culture for which our ancestors resisted all these horrible types of violence.
What do you think makes your culture different from other cultures?
Our culture is different because we depend on the forest. We are part of the forest. Because we believe we are nature, we believe that, if we destroy nature, we are destroying ourselves. Our culture is all about being in harmony with our lands.
“Because we believe we are nature, we believe that, if we destroy nature, we are destroying ourselves.”
Why did you decide to go to Law School?
I think that by studying Law, I’m more helpful to my people. I believe traditional communities and black people are vulnerable in our society and I chose Law because I wanted to be able to fight for our rights.
The only way to keep our traditions and to save all the people, animals and future generations living in the rainforest, is to defend our lands. And I think it will be very helpful to fight with lawyers from our own territory.
Do you see yourself as a spokesperson for your culture and your people?
Yes, I think that, because I’m from the indigenous movement from the state of Para and because I know what is happening to us, I’m able to be a spokesperson for my people while in Europe.
Is that also the reason that you wanted to come to the Netherlands?
The reason I came to Europe was to speak out, to bring the voice of the forest. I want people to know that we’re suffering, that we have big companies in our territories that are polluting our rivers and our groundwater, that the agricultural companies use toxins that cause respiration diseases among our children, that we are losing our forest to soybean fields.
When you came to the Netherlands and walked around here, what stood out?
I think the biggest difference is that people need to be more connected with nature here. Dutch people are always hurried and they never stop to think about how they contribute to climate change or pollution. We all need to stop and think about the future generation, instead of only thinking about now.
Of course. we do need certain things, but the European way of living – consumerism – is also destroying the planet. Nature is the source of everything we buy, but in Europe, people don’t really seem to think about that. In the Amazon, we don’t have all the things you have. For example, if you buy something in the supermarket in the Netherlands, it’s packed in plastic. For everything you buy, you consume a lot of plastic. We don’t do that in the Amazon.
“We all need to stop and think about the future generation, instead of only thinking about now.”
If you think about that, how does the Dutch culture negatively influence the Brazilian indigenous culture?
The most important thing is buying products from the Amazon, such as soybeans. And also, plastic is a big problem. Our rivers and seas are polluted with plastic, so we have to find a solution for that, to consume less plastic.
What do you think about the work of Forest Forces?
I think Forest Forces has good ideas! The monitoring of deforestation with GPS cameras by the local population will show the loss of our Amazon accurately. It’s really important to work together with the local people.
Besides the monitoring with GPS, Forest Forces also wants to start a fund to help indigenous people with legal aid, providing them with the means to pay for local lawyers. Do you think that will help the communities?
I think it could be very valuable. It is nice to have some help in the Amazon, especially if Forest Forces will work in cooperation with local lawyers, that’s important.
What can Dutch people do to help the indigenous people in Brazil?
I think more cooperation is important. The Dutch people should be more informed about how companies from their country are violating human rights and environmental legislation in Brazil. And, as I said before, don’t buy products that come from the Amazon! That destroys lives and people get killed for it, especially leaders and defenders of indigenous people.
Also, supporting organisations like Forest Forces, that work in cooperation with the indigenous tribes, could be a way to help indigenous communities.