The Amazon’s top indigenous Chief Raoni Metuktire spoke at Imperial last week and urged students to help protect the rainforest and his tribes' homes.
Chief Raoni, who has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, belongs to a group of people in the Amazon which only came into contact with the Western world seventy years ago.
Chief Raoni said: “I am very honoured to be here and be speaking to you. Since I was young I have been fighting to preserve the rainforest for my people and my children.
“I’m here because I’m very worried about what’s happening to the rainforest and its rivers. I’m very worried about the level of deforestation and the forest fires.
“I would like to ask for your help to fight against deforestation and preserve the forest.”
Chief Raoni was joined by his nephew Chief Megaron Txucarramae, who said: “We indigenous people have to stand up against deforestation, but we need assistance and public awareness.
“There are many ways for you to help. If some of the students here get together to come and visit our village and see what the needs are and assess ways to help us it would be very important. Once you visit you can have a clearer idea of how you can help and understand what’s happening.”
Imperial’s Vice President Maggie Dallman welcomed the Chiefs to Imperial and talked about the ways that Imperial students and researchers are addressing environmental challenges.
Professor Dallman said: “Your visit is timely for many reasons; the forest fires in the Amazon this year and last raised our awareness that more needs to be done to protect this habitat and the people who live there, and more broadly to mitigate global warming.
“At Imperial we are trying to play our part by directly addressing environmental challenges in a number of ways, such as developing tools to clean oceans of microplastics, advancing carbon capture technologies, and designing zero pollution transportation of the future.
“We’ve organised this event to identify ways in which Imperial can collaborate with communities in Brazil.”
The visit was organised by Dr Weston Baxter, from the Dyson School of Design Engineering and Dr Morena Mills from the Centre for Environmental Policy.
During the visit, Chiefs Raoni and Megaron met with Imperial academics who listened to the needs of the Kayapo people.
Academics from across the College presented projects showing the practical ways Imperial is addressing these needs and related issues around the world.
Dr Baxter, whose research looks at behaviour change which goes across cultural boundaries, said: “Imperial's research addresses problems faced by the Kayapo ranging from policy regarding the use of the Amazon to the practicalities of daily village life such as sanitation, hand washing with soap and clean water.
"The Centre for Environmental Policy and the Grantham Institute lead research that informs policy globally particularly as it relates to the environment and those impacted most by climate change.
"Groups within the Dyson School, Civil Engineering and Medicine develop innovations with and for people in the communities where the technology will be used to ensure it is useful and desirable."
Dr Mills said: "The Kayapo people are worried about the threats to their forest as their culture and livelihood are dependent on it.
"Their rivers are being damned and polluted by pesticides and wildcat mining and their forest is being destroyed by fires or illegal harvesting.
"Instead of the government protecting their interests and rights they are encouraging this resource exploitation within their lands.
"They used to be nomads and all their material goods came from the forest, so they didn’t have to worry about plastic or sanitation problems.
"Now they have a semi-permanent village, which they leave for a few months of the year and then go back to, so rubbish - especially associated to plastic - and sanitation have become big issues."
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