Morning Chronicle - Brazil indigenous influencers take their fight online

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Brazil indigenous influencers take their fight online
Brazil indigenous influencers take their fight online / Photo: Carl de Souza - AFP

Brazil indigenous influencers take their fight online

Clutching an iPhone in each hand, and sporting a feather headdress and traditional indigenous garb, Brazilian influencer Samela Awia, a member of the Amazon rainforest's Satere-Mawe people, checks out her latest video, then posts it online.

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"Good stuff," says the 25-year-old after uploading the video, a recap of news from a tent city near the seat of government in Brasilia, where she and thousands of other indigenous Brazilians have been camped out since last week protesting far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's policies.

"Hi, this is Samela, coming to you from the indigenous camp," she tells her 54,000 followers in the mini-report, decked out in a coconut shell-and-crochet bustier, colorful beads and blue flower armbands.

"Come with me, I'll show you what's going on," says the self-described artisan and digital activist from Manaus, the city known as the "capital of the Amazon."

The indigenous camp, an annual event, has focused this year on mobilizing public opinion against a series of Bolsonaro initiatives that critics say would be disastrous for native peoples and the environment, including bills that would sharply limit the creation of new indigenous reservations and open existing ones to mining.

But in addition to the camp, young and tech-savvy indigenous influencers are increasingly taking their cause online.

"Indigenous leaders before us had other tools, other weapons to fight. Our generation has a new form of resistance, the internet and social networks, and it's making a big difference," Awia told AFP.

- 'iPhone Indians' -

Brazil is home to around 900,000 indigenous people.

They make up 0.5 percent of the population, but play an outsize role in protecting the environment: experts say creating and safeguarding indigenous reservations is one of the best ways to preserve the world's forests, key resources in the race to curb climate change.

Victims of mass killings and horrific abuses throughout the nation's history, indigenous Brazilians still often face violence, discrimination and rights violations today.

Indigenous influencers see part of their role as combatting the prejudice their people face.

Tukuma Pataxo, 22, recently posted a video taking on a question he says he gets constantly: "Aren't you too modern to be indigenous?"

"Are we supposed to be stuck in time?" he asks in the accompanying message, hitting out at the derogatory phrase sometimes applied to people like him: "iPhone Indians."

With 172,000 followers, Pataxo, who comes from the ethnic group of the same name in the northeastern state of Bahia, is a celebrity at the protest camp, where fellow demonstrators constantly stop him and ask to take a picture.

"Young people are super important in the (indigenous) struggle. Our elders started coming to Brasilia years ago as a way to fight for their land. They didn't even know where they were going or how to get here, but they came," says Pataxo.

"Now, we have a whole new platform with technology on our side, which lets us bring our fight to the entire world."