Indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa Yanomami receives “Alternative Nobel Prize”

Brazilian indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami people and the organization he co-founded, Hutukara Yanomami Association jointly receive the Right Livelihood Award in Stockholm today. Rainforest Foundation Norway congratulates the recipients.

Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt/Right Livelihood Foundation

The prestigious prize is awarded by the independent Right Livelihood Foundation and is widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”. Davi Kopenawa and Hutukara Yanomami Association are in stellar company. The 2019 award is shared with Aminatou Haidar (Western Sahara), Guo Jianmei (China), and Greta Thunberg (Sweden).

In its announcement of the 2019 award to Davi Yanomami and Hutukara Yanomami Association, the Right Livelihood Foundation stated that the prize is awarded to them “for their courageous determination to protect the forests and biodiversity of the Amazon and the lands and culture of its indigenous peoples”.

Davi Kopenawa is one of the most respected indigenous leaders in Brazil and a spokesperson for the Yanomami and Ye’kuana people. Rainforest Foundation Norway has supported Hutukara Yanomami Association since 2012. 

"Rainforest Foundation Norway is very proud to have supported Davi and Hutukara's struggle for many years."

- Øyvind Eggen, Rainforest Foundation Norway's executive director

"We congratulate Davi Kopenawa and Hutukara for this important international recognition for their long, persistent and often dangerous struggle for the rainforest and indigenous rights. We salute Davi and Hutukara for having dedicated their lives to protecting their rights, culture, and lands in the Amazon. Rainforest Foundation Norway is very proud to have supported Davi and Hutukara's struggle for many years", RFN's executive director Øyvind Eggen said.

The Yanomami territory, officially demarcated in 1992, is the largest indigenous territory of Brazil and home to a population of about 27.000 indigenous people. Hutukara Yanomami Association unites and represents disparate indigenous communities in their territory, conserving the rainforest and advancing indigenous rights in Brazil.

"The award comes just at the right time. It gives me the strength to continue the fight to defend the soul of the Amazon forest."

- Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, 2019 Right Livelihood Award laureate

Davi Kopenawa commented: “I am very happy to receive the award. The award comes just at the right time. It gives me the strength to continue the fight to defend the soul of the Amazon forest.  It is a show of trust in me and Hutukara and all those who defend the forest and planet Earth. We, the peoples of the planet, need to preserve our cultural heritage as Omame [the Creator] taught – to live well caring for our land so that future generations continue to use it.”

The Right Livelihood Award raises awareness of the fight of the Yanomami and Ye’kuana peoples in defense of the rainforest at a time when indigenous peoples, particularly the vulnerable uncontacted tribes in Brazil, are increasingly under attack. 

Since the election of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in 2018, deforestation and violence targeting indigenous peoples are on the rise. 

The indigenous inhabitants of the Yanomami territory, which is very rich in minerals, are suffering under an invasion by illegal gold miners and the resulting mercury poisoning of the rivers in their territory. The Yanomami and the uncontacted indigenous groups in the territory are vulnerable to changes in legislation that Bolsonaro’s government is considering. 

The suggested changes would legalize mining in indigenous territories in Brazil. 

Davi Kopenawa and Hutukara have denounced the current invasion by up to 20.000 gold miners that are illegally operating in their territory. Illegal gold mining threatens the very survival of the Yanomami and Ye’kuana peoples. 

Pollution of the rivers, degradation and logging of the forest, the spread of diseases and the introduction of alcohol and prostitution to indigenous communities threaten their existence. 

Brazilian monitoring authorities such as the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) have deliberately been weakened under president Bolsonaro and cannot guarantee the integrity of the Yanomami territory.