Cape Breton's Magazine

> Issue 53 > Page 22 - On the Trail of Elizabeth May

Page 22 - On the Trail of Elizabeth May

Published by Ronald Caplan on 1990/1/1 (252 reads)

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And Canadians raised more money than any other country. We ended up funding 3/4 of the cost of what he had in mind. Because his vision was that he would gather--for the first time ever-- indigenous people from the Amazon, in the town where the first dam would be built--a place called Altimira--and build a traditional Indi? an village, and make the statement that they would not build the dam there, that these peo? ple were united--all these different tribes-- against the dam, and that they would also con? sult with government at the meeting. And the reason he needed a lot of money--he figured he needed at least a hundred thousand dollars to organize this--because these tribes are scattered. They don't know each other. There certainly aren't roads. These are people who live in the jungle. So to get them to one place meant chartering boats to go upriver to pick them up. meant chartering airplanes. Paiakan's village, a little village called Au- cre--everybody from his village came to Alti? mira. So it took 17 flights of a little plane that seats 5 people, to bring--well, nearly everybody came. There were 36 Canadians who had all decided to go down and be there in Altimira in February. Paul Watson was with us. And a lot of my friends from different environmental groups-- from Probe International and from Friends of the Earth, and people I used to work with at Environment Canada. And Guujaaw, a friend of mine from the Haida nation, who'd originated the proposal to save South Moresby. So that was wonderful, bringing together those strands from South Moresby and other environmental is? sues in Canada, down to Brazil. But the most amazing thing about it was the gathering itself. Because for 5 days, in this relatively small town of Altimira, they had 1000 natives from all over the Amazon, who'd never ever met each other before. Or if they would have ever seen each other, they would have been enemies, traditionally. So there were 8 different tribal groups from 30 differ? ent villages. It was like walking into a Na? tional Geographic, these are primitive, nearly stone-age people. And I put "primitive" in quotes, the way we think of primitive. Walking among people who are naked, wearing body paint and feathers. But on their shoulder they've got a video camera and they're filming the whole event. So it was a collision of cultures that was just extraordinary. And baking heat. And the meet? ings were held in a local community hall which was basically like an oven. And the local peo? ple from Altimira--even those people who want? ed the dam--attended the event. And would boo when something was said that they didn't like. But it was all tolerated. It was quite extraor? dinary in a culture which is so--I mean, it's a very violent society. Between the time we raised the money and we went to Brazil, one of the key leaders of the whole environmental fight there. Chico Mendes. was assassinated. And shootings,are very common. So the hall was also filled with soldiers. They had soldiers lining the walls, and in back and all around. Because the Brazilian government didn't want any more international approbation, based on
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