Nobel Peace Prize 2019 favourites: Brazil's Raoni Metuktire

The indigenous leader has been a life-long defender of the Amazon

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 06, 2019 Brazil's indigenous chief Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapo people looks on during a press conference in Bordeaux ahead of the Climax environment festival. A Uighur scholar imprisoned in China since 2014 and a trio of Brazilian activists were nominated Tuesday for a top European rights prize, along with Kenyans fighting female genital mutilation. The European Parliament named Ilham Tohti -- serving a life sentence on separatism charges for advocating the rights of Uighurs, a Muslim minority in China's northwest Xinjiang region -- on the shortlist for its Sakharov Prize, weeks after he scooped another award for his activism, much to Beijing's anger. From Brazil, murdered political activist Marielle Franco made the list jointly with tribal chief Raoni Metuktire, who campaigns against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and rights defender Claudelice Silva dos Santos. / AFP / NICOLAS TUCAT
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Brazil's Chief Raoni Metuktire, 89, an indigenous man from the Kayapo tribe, was nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize by anthropologists and environmentalists for his fight to protect nature.

He hails from the plain lands of Mato Grosso and Para in Brazil, south of the Amazon Basin and the Xingu River and its tributaries.

The chief's nomination for the award was led by the Darcy Ribeiro Foundation, which called the tribesman “a living symbol of the fight to protect nature and the rights of indigenous people in the Amazon”.

Mr Metuktire has spent his life protesting against the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, his home, against disasters and exploitation.


With his lip plate, yellow macaw feather headdress and his earrings, he found fame internationally in the 1980s as an environmental activist when he campaigned with British rock singer Sting, visiting 17 countries to raise awareness to deforestation around the world.

In February 1989, Mr Metuktire became one of the fiercest opponents to the Belo Monte Dam project, which threatened indigenous land on the bank of the Xingu river and would harm the region’s biodiversity.

Despite the leader having the support of many high-profile celebrities and politicians, then Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff disregarded him and pushed on with the project, drawing international criticism.

This summer, Mr Metuktire’s activism came into the spotlight after the Amazon was being destroyed by the largest number of fires since 2010.

The world was also becoming more conscious about the climate catastrophe after demonstrations by environmental activists and as extreme weather events became more common.

Mr Metuktire blamed the fires on the plans of right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to commercialise the Amazon and ignore the concerns of its indigenous people.

Since Mr Bolsonaro's inauguration in January, the rate of deforestation has increased to 92 per cent, satellite images show.

“We need the support of everybody,” Mr Metuktire has told France 24. “Financial aid should be consistent. Amazonia is the only solution to guarantee the air we’re breathing.”

He met French President Emmanuel Macron twice this year. Mr Macron has been one of the strongest global supporters of the fight against the climate crisis, and has frequently clashed with the Brazilian president on the fate of the Amazon.

The future of the rainforest, a bulwark to climate change, is far from safe. But the charismatic indigenous chief will no doubt continue to be a staunch defender of the Amazon until the day he dies.