Parintins, site of Brazil’s big annual indigenous festival, is typical of towns in the Brazilian Amazon. The Sateré, and other indigenous groups living or working there, often endure discrimination and work analogous to slavery. Civil rights are few and indigenous populations inhabit the bottom rung of the economic ladder.Now more than ever, indigenous groups fear the loss of their cultural heritage and land rights as guaranteed under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. New president Jair Bolsonaro wants to achieve indigenous societal “assimilation,” a process by which an ethnic minority group’s traditional way of life and livelihoods is erased.The strongest advocates of indigenous assimilation are the ruralistas, rural wealthy elites and agribusiness producers, who have the most to gain via access to the timber, land and mineral wealth found within indigenous territories. The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby is strong in Congress, and it supports Bolsonaro.The Sateré, along with other indigenous groups, have endured a long history marked by extermination and exploitation. Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people are increasingly joining together to fight the anti-indigenous policies proposed by the Bolsonaro administration and supported by the ruralists. Benito Miquiles, a Sateré man. Image by Matheus ManfrediniIn February, a Mongabay reporting team travelled to the Brazilian Amazon, spending time with the remote Sateré-Mawé, documenting their culture and long-time conflict with mining companies and land grabbers. This series looks at new threats imposed on the Sateré and indigenous groups across Brazil as they’re threatened by the ruralist-friendly policies of President Jair Bolsonaro. The trip was funded by the Amazon Rainforest Journalism Fund in association with the Pulitzer Center and Mongabay.PARINTINS, BRAZIL – On the banks of the Amazon River, in the Parintins municipal district of Amazonas state, Benito Miquiles, a young Sateré indigenous man watches boats come and go. Francesa, the port where he stands, is located in a small bay where the district’s untreated sewage flows into the river. It’s also here that boats travelling to and from the state’s interior stop to unload, with Indians and fisherfolk hefting heavy bags of manioc flour, copaíba oil and guarana, then forced to walk down a narrow 15-foot-long plank and on into town to sell their wares.Benito, who accompanied and guided the Mongabay reporting team throughout its trip, knows better than most the happenings, sounds and smells of Francesa. He lived here, out in the open, slinging his hammock among the boats, for two years while studying for a college degree in Parintins. Now age 25, he recently earned a diploma in intercultural indigenous studies from the Federal University of Amazonas.“It was a big achievement,” the young Sateré-Mawé acknowledges.Benito is proud to be Sateré, but people in Parintins frequently comment that he doesn’t look like a “real Indian.” His hair is stylishly coiffed, he owns a smart phone, takes “selfies” and wears a cap and sunglasses, but for Benito indigenous identity is something that comes from inside himself, irrespective of what he is wearing: “I was born Sateré, I grew up Sateré, and wherever I go I am Sateré. I can use a coat and tie, trainers, smart clothes, but I will always be Sateré.”
By Leah HernandezThe famous American bodybuilder, actor and artist, Kai Greene once said, “In the mind of every artist there is a masterpiece”. Those words are the definition of how truly phenomenal June Ann-Henry is.This 68-year-old mother of four has been an artist for over half of a century and is showing no signs of quitting anytime soon. The multitalented Henry is one to watch as she possesses unique skills not only in artistry but in singing, voice-training and teaching, but more so she dedicates most of her time teaching young children and hosting workshops to share her artistic talent.“My art is not just about the painting I do, I’m also a singer, songwriter, voice trainer. It’s across the board because I’m multi-talented. I’m always into something else….I believe that I am doing good work, which as you can see in my work that I try my best matter of fact everything I do. I try to do it excellent” she asserted.The Sunday Times Magazine was fortunate enough to learn more about the exciting experiences encountered by this art professional, during an evidently interesting conversation at her home in the city.Like most talented individuals, this stalwart captured her motivation together with passion from those dearest to her and from a tender age it was evident that Henry’s talent was undeniable.“Since I was a child I like to do art. I remember even prophesying in my art. I did a picture with a husband and a wife and I put my real husband name in it and I was a child then….I was just about five-years-old then and that’s my earliest recollection of my art. I was also influenced by my father as he liked to draw birds and I was encouraged by my uncle who bought me paints and so on. He was always interested in me becoming an artist” a jovial Henry explained.It is wise to accept challenges so that one can feel the exhilaration of victory because it is only through resolution and determination victory is gained. Being a perfect example of the readiness to accept challenges, Henry is always prepared to make the most out of the very least.“Basic challenge is money because the paints are very expensive and the canvases are very expensive and people don’t want to pay for it. They want the work but they don’t want to pay for it. Basic challenges besides money are to manoeuvre what little that you have to in order to make it work” the devoted artist related.Embracing and showing off the creativeness of the beautifully painted pictures in the room, the Sunday Times Magazine asked the visibly enthusiastic senior of the inspiration behind each work of art completed, and in a smooth voice, she responded saying, “Sometimes I have a dream, other times I get inspiration from nature…I like to draw because I feel that different groups have different concepts of ideas to share with the world and if artists don’t come forth and share with the world, you imagine what the world would be like without artists?”The rest of the world was also afforded the opportunity to view the creations done by Henry whilst on missionary trips to various destinations. Countries such as Brazil, Suriname, the United States of America and Canada are among those that have these radiant art pieces of our very own local artist, on their shores.Being very proud of her work and accomplishments at home and abroad, Henry encourages other local talented persons to stop having less confidence in themselves and pursue whatever dream it is until it becomes a reality.“I would say to that person, pursue it! It’s just as if you take one step, take baby steps. Anything you wanna do you, take a little baby step and then you know you can go further and further until you reach wherever you want to be” Henry positively said.This committed member of the Guyana Women Artist Association is currently focused on her voice training classes at the Carnegie School of Economics but more importantly her over-successful artistry career.This industrious woman seeks to share with the world her inspiration and concept of what an artist truly is by use of her colours and paintbrush on each canvas. Her words are “I am art and art is me, art is my life”.