Indigenous woman wins prize for campaign against mining firms in Amazon

Alessandra Korap Munduruku (pictured) organized community efforts to stop mining development by British mining company Anglo American in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Credit: The Goldman Environmental Prize

Alessandra Korap Munduruku, who headed a campaign that led mining corporations to respect her people’s Indigenous territory in the Amazon rainforest, has been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize.

She is among six 2023 winners from different parts of the globe to win the prize for achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists awarded by the San Francisco-based Goldman Foundation.

In May 2021, Anglo American agreed to withdraw 27 approved research applications to mine on Indigenous lands, according to the foundation, including Alessandra Munduruku’s Sawré Muybu territory on 400,000 acres of rainforest on the Tapajos River.

“The prize recognizes our struggle and tells the world ‘We are here’. Multinational companies cannot come in without consulting Indigenous people,” she told Reuters by telephone.

The British miner said it has engaged with the Brazilian Indigenous Peoples Association (APIB) and environmental NGO Amazon Watch in recent years to address their concerns.

“Anglo American does not hold any exploration permits in primary forest or on Indigenous lands in Brazil. Nor do we have any plans to do so,” the company said in a statement to Reuters.

Following Anglo American’s decision, other major mining companies announced they were also dropping prospecting permits on Indigenous lands in Brazil, the foundation said, a fact corroborated by the Brazilian mining lobby Ibram.

In 2022, for the first time in decades, none of its 130 companies had mining applications in indigenous territories, a spokesman for Ibram said.

“Alessandra’s successful campaign represents a significant shift in private sector accountability around destructive mining in Brazil amid an intense government push for extraction in the Amazon,” the Goldman Foundation said in a statement.

What made her campaign more remarkable was achieving its goal during the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who reduced environmental protections and advocated allowing commercial mining and agriculture on Indigenous lands.

International mining companies have stopped prospecting on Munduruku lands, but Alessandra said her people still face the threat of illegal gold miners who invaded her territory in growing numbers under Bolsonaro, while destruction of the Amazon rainforest soared to the worst level in 15 years.

Her Sawré Muybu territory remains under threat from miners because it has still not been formally recognized as an Indigenous reservation. She called on the new leftist government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to do so urgently.

Alessandra, 38, will use the prize money to finish her university studies to become a lawyer.

(By Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Gregorio)


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