An important part of the growing movement for the rights of nature is empowering indigenous peoples to steward their lands. Indigenous forests sequester twice as much carbon as those on private or public lands, and these often have the highest levels of biodiversity.
The trend now includes 130 Brazilian mining companies that have withdrawn requests to extract minerals from Indigenous lands in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest.
The conscience of mining
The Brazilian Mining Association (Ibram) conducted a review of the 130 mining companies it represents and found that none of them have current research or mining applications for gold, tin, nickel, iron, and other ores in Indigenous areas. These companies account for 85 percent of the country’s legally produced ore.
While these companies back away from mining on Indigenous lands, Brazilian president Jai Bolsonaro has pushed to expand mining in Indigenous lands. He insists the mineable minerals on these lands are essential for Brazil’s prosperity and that of its Indigenous peoples. Bolsonaro also made the case that the War in Ukraine created a shortage of fertilizer potash necessary for Brazil’s agricultural sector and Indigenous areas could provide this.
He has so far failed to gain the support he wants, though, as a partnership with Tesla’s Elon Musk fell through and his list of opponents grows longer and more diverse.
Thousands of Indigenous people protesting outside Brazil’s Congress, while representatives inside discussed Bolsonaro’s bill, were supported by Ibram.
“[This bill] is not appropriate for its intended purpose,” Ibram said in a statement, adding that regulation of mining in Indigenous territories “needs to be widely debated by the Brazilian society, especially by the Indigenous peoples, respecting their constitutional rights, and by the Brazilian Congress.”
Efforts to mine on Brazil’s Indigenous lands continue from international companies, such as Canada’s Belo Sun Mining Corp and Brazil Potash Corp. However, geologist Tadeu Veiga, a consultant who also teaches at the National University of Brasilia, finds that the industry could be going in a new direction.
“Mining companies have shown growing attention to social and environmental governance principles. Shareholders and society demand it,” said Veiga, who has extensive experience consulting for such companies in the Amazon, as well as for non-profits. “And they (mining companies) never felt they were taken into consideration with Bolsonaro’s bill, which was interpreted as an attempt to legalize illegal mining.”