Grace Iara Souza, lead convenor of the Alliance for the Amazon and Beyond, spent almost three months in Brazil at the turn of this year. She tells us about her time nurturing affectionate alliances that have been at the heart of Gaia’s work for nearly 40 years. You can read more about the unfurling of our collaborative cycles here.


Puyanawa indigenous territory in Acre

The first gathering of civil society organisations in the state of Acre was a space in which to share reflections on work to-date, learnt from the evolution of our Alliance for the Amazon and Beyond. While there, I also visited lifelong Gaia friends, the Puyanawa and the Ashaninka indigenous communities from the Amônia River. They shared stories of our work together as far back as the 1990s and the importance of this international support in securing the validation of their Indigenous lifeways. In recent years the Ashaninka have won unprecedented apologies, recognition and compensation for deforestation on their lands to supply the European furniture industry.

São Paulo

Back in my own hometown of São Paulo, I met members of the Guarani Mbya and their organisation, the Commission Guarani Yvyrupa. The Guarani people are the custodians of the Atlantic Forest and were first introduced to Gaia by the Ashaninka leaders in 2019, during the Flourishing Diversity Series hosted by Synchronicity Earth in London. Despite the many threats they have faced in their territories, the Guaranis have managed to maintain their cosmology and language, while Guarani women are still the custodians of traditional seeds from this unique biodiversity hotspot. I also spent time with allies at the Socioenvironmental Fund Casa, hearing fond memories of earlier collaboration between Brazil and the UK from Gaia’s friend Angela Pappiani and her daughter Maira Krenak.

Rio de Janeiro

In Rio de Janeiro, I went to the launch of the Selvagem Living School’s Exhibition, an exciting initiative supported by our long-time friend and mentor, the Indigenous philosopher Ailton Krenak and coordinated by Cris Takuá, and educator, mother, midwife and Maxacali thinker. The Living Schools initiative strengthens traditional indigenous knowledge through sacred plant cultivation, handicraft making, storytelling, chants, paintings, and intergenerational exchanges. The inauguration of the Living School Exhibition was also the first meeting and exchange of Indigenous teachers, shamans, artists, and handcrafters from the four centres of traditional knowledge: Maxakali, Huni Kuin, Tukano, and Guarani.

Chico Mendes Week

Chico Mendes march

I returned to Acre for the annual Chico Mendes Week: honouring Gaia’s ancestor and great friend. An Amazonian rubber tapper, Chico was assassinated in 1988 for his tireless work to defend the rainforest that was his home, his livelihood and his source of wonder. Chico had forged a firm friendship with Ailton Krenak and together they created the Forest People’s Movement: an alliance united in their defence of the Amazon. Gaia’s first ever small grant supported their resistance and it continues to this day; I spent quality time with Chico’s daughter, Angela Mendes, and learned more about her efforts to further her father’s legacy.

Me with Chico’s daughter, Angela (right) and grand daughter, Angelica (left)

I also visited the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, which Chico had worked to establish before he died and where people continue to sustain a balanced relationship with the forest, often by harvesting brazil nuts. And I had the privilege of meeting other inspiring friends from this work in the 1980s and 90s, such as rubber tapper leaders Txai Macedo and Txai Terry, and indigenous leader Severiá Cipassé Xavante. These encounters were mutually enhancing to everyone involved, activating memories of friendship, care and respect for each other, our collective journey and home Gaia.

Travelling to these lands and meeting so many custodians was very special. Unearthing the seeds of a shared resistance, which has unfurled over decades since, is all the fertiliser we need for our alliance-building movement today.