Ailton Krenak on environmental activism and indigenous rights

April 19, 2021

On March 31, 2021, the Brazil LAB and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese hosted the fourth in a series of talks known as “Pílulas Literárias”, in connection with Lilia Moritz Schwarcz and Pedro Meira Monteiro’s seminar “The Canon Re-Signified” (POR 415/LAS 425). The event was live-streamed for the public on the YouTube channels of Lilia Schwarcz, Pedro Meira Monteiro, Brazil LAB and Projeto MinasMundo, and was hosted and moderated by Professors Schwarcz and Meira Monteiro and their students.

The guest of this “Pílula” was Ailton Krenak, an environmentalist, indigenous rights activist, and author of Ideias para adiar o fim do mundo and A vida não e útil, books that the students read and discussed in the seminar. Born in the region of the Doce River, Krenak thinks highly of alternative ways to imagine the world and humanity integrated within the Earth. In this regard, Krenak believes that we should not be subjected to the State machinery and mercantilist perspectives. He emphasizes the need to build a collective memory - the place in which we hold ancestral habits - and to respect the diversity of ways of living. Speaking on behalf of the rights of the indigenous peoples in front of the debates held for the 1988 Brazilian Constitution, he delivered a remarkable speech during which he covered his face with black ink.

Krenak began his talk by alerting the audience about the date of March 31, better known as the date in which a military coup took place in Brazil in 1964. The author was contesting the recent attempts by the Brazilian government to propagate the idea that the coup was a "revolution".

As professor Schwarcz noted, he wasn’t just there to be interviewed, he was also doing a performance. Ailton Krenak was wearing a t-shirt with the image of Galdino Jesus dos Santos, the indigenous leader brutally murdered in 1997. Speaking from Minas Gerais, Krenak answered a variety of questions about his role as a writer, as well as questions related to the environment and indigenous rights. The event was attended by a global audience, including individuals from across Brazil and throughout the United States, and the questions were presented to him by Princeton students along with contributions from the general public watching the live-streamed event. Despite the unstable Internet connectivity, Krenak kept the audience hopeful by repeating "estamos voltando" ["we are coming back"] each time he "came back", which conferred a poetic tone to the closure of the conversation.

The event was organized by the Brazil LAB and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and was co-sponsored by Projeto MinasMundo and ANPOCS Pública.