Puyr Tembé

Reforesting minds 

Puyr Tembé knows that ambitious action is called for to save the Amazon rain forest where she grew up. In order to protect the rights and land of Indigenous people, a global effort is needed. ‘There is still time to change the story, but only if we join forces, if we unite humanity.’ 

‘To be born Indigenous is to be born with resistance in your blood,’ Puyr Tembé says in the documentary We Are Guardians, a deep dive into the various stakes that are at play in the Amazon rain forest. Throughout the Amazon, illegal loggers, miners and ranchers have devastated the natural environment. Corrupt politicians and government officials allowed this to happen, and foreign corporations willingly bought the wood, knowing it was stolen.

Puyr left Alto Rio Guamá Indigenous Territory to work from the city of Belém, ‘because here is where we can fight in defence of Indigenous peoples’. In the documentary, Jair Bolsonaro is still president. He has declared war on the rights of Indigenous peoples, cutting funding for environmental law enforcement agencies and allowing unlimited growth of illegal resource extraction. ‘We’re threatened 24 hours a day,’ Puyr says in We Are Guardians, ‘just for defending the environment.’ Since 2014, at least 600 Brazilian land defenders have been murdered.

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (2021), Puyr held the international players responsible who contribute to the decay of the Amazon. ‘It’s time for the countries who started this process with agribusiness and big machinery to turn this table,’ she argues fiercely. ‘We are reforesting minds,’ she tells someone at the Conference. ‘The head, the thoughts, the heart, the unity and solidarity in the world.’

Within Brazil, she works to get Indigenous candidates elected to government bodies. With the installation of Lula da Silva as president in 2023, the destruction of the Amazon has come to a halt. Under Lula, Puyr Tembé was appointed the first Minister of Indigenous Peoples of the state of Pará. However, ‘Lula’s election doesn’t mean the fight is over,’ she says. ‘We are going to stay in this fight for our right to social justice.’

We Are Guardians is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2024.