Nestled deep in the Brazilian Amazon along the Peruvian border, the state of Acre contains about 15 million hectares – most of which remains pristine virgin rainforest – within a space roughly the size of Florida. It’s also home to thousands of indigenous people, who serve an invaluable role as stewards of the so-called Earth’s Lungs, the Amazon rainforest. Supporting these communities is critical to both preserving their cultural heritage and achieving our global climate goals, and that’s why Forest Trends’ Communities Initiative works closely with the Yawanawá people, a group of about 1,500 living in nine villages spread across a vast forest territory of 200,000 hectares.
The most recent milestone in this partnership came in February 2016, when Forest Trends helped the Yawanawá finance and construct a traditional community center, or Shuhu, near the entry point to their territory. For generations, Shuhus have served as important focal points of civic engagement, particularly for the tribe’s highest elected political authority, the council of leaders, who meets here to formulate strategies for managing their territory and safeguarding it from outside encroachment.
Whereas the existing community centers are situated within the far-flung villages themselves, lending a sort of “home-court advantage” to each of the host venues during tribal negotiations, Communities Initiative Director Beto Borges said the new facility will serve as a neutral ground where no single village leadership wields more influence than the others. Thanks to the Shuhu’s large size and central location – 13 hours west of Acre’s capital city, by car, is surprisingly accessible in these parts – the new building equally serves the villages upstream and provides a much-needed space to meet with and host visitors.
Chief Tashka Yawanawá led the project with support from Forest Trends and cosmetics company Aveda. A team from Forest Trends’ Communities Initiative was on hand to participate in the new Shuhu’s inauguration: a community meeting to discuss the Plano de Vida Yawanawá, or Yawanawá Life Plan. That document is slated for release this weekend, and will articulate the tribe’s management approach for the Rio Gregorio Indigenous Territory.
Supporting the Yawanawá in the crafting of this Life Plan is just the latest component of Forest Trends’ ongoing work assisting indigenous and traditional communities as they strive to secure their rights, manage and conserve their forests, and improve their livelihoods. Partnering with the IKEA Foundation, the Communities Initiative focuses on supporting sustainable economic opportunities for the Yawanawá people – particularly women and young people – through agroforestry training, women’s craft art co-operatives, and youth cultural exchanges.
One of the next steps in this process is improving access to medicine by building and staffing medicinal plant gardens in each of the Yawanawá villages. That work begins in the village of Sete Estrelas, where traditional medicine man Luis Yawanawá has mastered the use of approximately 100 native plants for treatment of poisonous snakebites. Aside from working with Luis to improve and expand the facilities for growing these plants, Forest Trends will also support his efforts to share his knowledge with younger Yawanawá.
To learn more about Forest Trends’ work with the Yawanawá and other traditional forest communities, read about the recent Semana Yawá handicrafts initiative and see IKEA Foundation’s short film about our joint efforts to promote economic opportunities for indigenous women and youth.