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article imageBrazil's indigenous leader Raoni: youths losing their culture

By Eugenia LOGIURATTO (AFP)     May 2, 2017 in World

Brazil's indigenous youths are abandoning their culture, warns Raoni, the legendary chief from the Kayapo tribe who has become an icon of resistance for native people.

"I am very worried by the new generation," said the chieftain, Raoni Metuktire, internationally recognizable through his traditional lip plate and feather headdress, as well as his work campaigning alongside personalities like pop star Sting.

Raoni is best known for his lifelong work in defending the Brazilian rainforest from loggers and farmers, who have steadily encroached, often using violence, on what were always native lands.

Just this Sunday, a group from the Gamela tribe in northeastern Maranhao state were attacked, according to activists. One of them had his hands hacked off and five remained in hospital, according to the Roman Catholic-linked Pastoral Land Commission.

But Raoni said that in addition to outside violence, his people risk a self-inflicted defeat.

"The young are not interested in our culture, in traditional music, in the dance, in all our customs," he told AFP in Brasilia where he attended a week-long camp last week attempting to pressure Congress into protecting indigenous land rights.

- Lifelong struggle -

Raoni, who has also met with the late pope Jean-Paul II and numerous heads of state, appealed to his people for support.

"The young have to persevere in this fight to defend our rights," he said, seated on a plastic chair in a large tent.

Speaking in the Kayapo language, translated into Portuguese by his nephew Takakpe Tapayuna Metuktire, the chief said that he for one would not waver in a life-long struggle.

"Since I have been young I have fought against deforestation and against the logging business on indigenous lands."

Indigenous tribes in theory control swaths of Brazilian forest and agricultural land, but for decades they have been forced back by farmers and loggers. The government's failure to complete the demarcation of the boundaries has left the tribes with limited legal protection.

Today's government, under President Michel Temer, is seen as heavily backing the agricultural sector and large-scale infrastructure projects that force indigenous tribes from ancestral lands.

"There are several draft laws that threaten us," Raoni said.

One of the policy changes most feared by activists is the possibility of transferring the responsibility for demarcation work from a government body to the agribusiness friendly Congress.

According to official figures, Brazil has almost 900,000 indigenous people divided into 305 ethnic groups. They represent only 0.4 percent of the country's population but -- in theory -- control 12 percent of the territory.

Calling on the young to take up the baton, Raoni said he would continue to show the example.

"Brazil is the land of my mother, of my grandparents, of my great grandparents," he said. "I will fight to the end."

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