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Amazonian land invasion and climate change

The impacts of Amazonian land invasion and climate change on the Indigenous Peoples, knowledge systems, languages, and cultures of the Rio Negro region.

'Welcome' sign in the co-officialised Indigenous languages of the municipality on the banks of the Rio Negro.
'Welcome' sign in the co-officialised Indigenous languages of the municipality on the banks of the Rio Negro. (C) Georgina Hulston

For my M. Litt I have been using São Gabriel da Cachoeira as a case study for my research into the effects of environmental changes on Indigenous Peoples, languages, and cultures. Since November 2022 I had been desperate to make remote interviews work, I attempted to reach out to local organisations, activists, and journalists, but the digital barriers proved insurmountable. Recognising the importance of primary data in my research, I applied for the SLAS £1000 Postgraduate Research Support Grant. In April 2023 I was awarded the grant which then enabled me to travel to São Gabriel da Cachoeira in Northwest Brazil in June 2023.

My research looks at the impacts of environmental change, through land invasion and climate change, on Indigenous Peoples, knowledge systems, languages, and cultures. São Gabriel da Cachoeira enjoys vast linguistic and cultural diversity and was the first municipality in Brazil to co-officialise, alongside Portuguese, three Indigenous languages, Tukano, Baniwa and Nheêgatu. For these reasons, it is the case study of my research. São Gabriel is located along the Rio Negro in the northwest of the Amazonas state, near the borders with Venezuela and Colombia, and is surrounded by the Amazon rainforest. The municipality is the largest municipality by area in Brazil but has a population of less than 50,000 with the city having a population of around 13,000, 85% of which is Indigenous.

Whilst conducting semi-structured interviews, mostly through local organisations, I established the reasons for Indigenous Peoples migrating from Indigenous Territories and the sociolinguistic reality of the urban context. Whilst I had originally anticipated that climate change and land invasion in the Indigenous Territories would have been the most salient reasons for migration, economic and educational motives were the most common reasons given. My research has been enriched by conducting the fieldwork and seeing for myself the sociolinguistic reality of the city and I have gained valuable insight from people who usually live or frequent the surrounding Indigenous Territories.

There are frustrations in São Gabriel da Cachoeira from grappling with a lack of resources for education and healthcare and facing financial constraints in providing public services in the co-officialised languages. However, amidst these challenges, there is also a lot of hope for the future of Indigenous languages and cultures. Indigenous organisations are collaborating and producing action plans to deal with the challenges faced in the city and surrounding Indigenous Territories. Through interviews and observations, I also found that Indigenous languages are being used and transmitted to younger generations and I was informed that the Indigenous movement is gaining momentum, with the importance of language revitalisation being a key feature.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank SLAS for the grant. I have no doubt that the research I was able to conduct, as a result of the grant, will enrich my dissertation and overall M.Litt. project.

Georgina Rose Hulston

Newcastle University

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