Tashka Yawanawá is chief of the Yawanawá people and leads 1200 people stewarding 200,000 ha of Amazon rainforest in Brazil. The son of the former leader of the Yawanawá, Tashka grew up witnessing the virtual enslavement of his people by the rubber industry and experiencing the near annihilation of the tribe’s culture by missionaries. Since the 1980s, Tashka has actively fought for the rights of indigenous peoples. Realizing that he needed further education to improve the situation of the Yawanawá, he pursued higher education in the U.S. In 2000, Tashka returned to Brazil, and chose to use the knowledge gained from his experiences abroad to help his people transform their future. He became the youngest Chief in the history of the Yawanawá. In a short time, Tashka has managed to double the extent of Yawanawá territory, reinvigorate Yawanawá culture, and establish economically and socially empowering relationships with the outside world.
Yawanawa Life Plan
One-line project summary:
The Life Plan is a road map for achieving well-being through strengthening health, education, economy, culture and territorial management.
Present your project.
We preserve 200,000 ha of pristine rainforest. Our land is the source of our traditional knowledge, by preserving our biodiversity we also preserve our traditional knowledge, our spirituality, and our culture for the benefit of all humaity and the global eco-system. To achieve this we have developed our life plan, a development model using sustainable business practice that we created to preserve our territory, biodiversity, and continue enjoying our culture and spirituality as healthy Yawanawa. Our goal is to use sustainable business practices to help to preserve our land, for the well being of the Yawanawa, and humanity and we want to share the model with other indigenous communities who face the same battles that we are facing.
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What specific problem are you solving?
We are fighting to preserving about 200,000 ha of pristine rainforest. Yet with the end of the rainy season the logging and farming interests are back burning the forests all over Brazil and even several miles from our land. We are living a critical time now threatened by the fires, loggers, illegal hunting and now this Covid -19. Deforestation jumped 55% in the first four months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, as people have taken advantage of the crisis to carry out illegal clearances.
Our current government with its ethnocentric, etnocidal and integrational politics are major threats to indigenous peoples survival and protection of our lands. During the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro said he would not demarcate any indigenous lands if he were elected - and has kept his promise. He also said that he would seek to reduce areas already demarcated, which he has not yet done, but that means a major threat to our already demarcated territory. The Life Plan helps us to secure our territory, our health, our education, and well being, so we do not have to depend on the government
What is your project?
It is a long-term plan aimed at improving the lives of the Yawanawa families, preserving their territory, their traditions, medicines, languages, spirituality, art, language for the current to enjoy and the future generations that will come after us.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
We work with 7 Yawanawa villages, located along the Gregório River, each village is composed of large families, each village has its own leadership, bilingual teachers, agroforestry agents, health agents, shamans (healers and spiritual guides) and are part of the Association Sociocultural Yawanawa and the Yawanawa Leadership Council.
We created the Yawanawa leadership council, we meet 3 times a year in different villages to discuss with the participation of all peoples what needs each community is experiencing and how we can help to face these challenges by offering tools and instruments that can facilitate these to develop their activities .
The Yawanawa leadership council is a new model of governance that includes the voice of the women with the same power of decision making as the men. This was new in our tradition because Yawanawa, was a patriarchal culture, where only men had the voice for important decision making of political and economic affairs of our people. Now we enjoy the strong participation of women in all the affairs of the Yawanawa. we hope this new model can be replicate it in other indigenous communities where tradition has been patriarchal.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
How did you come up with your project?
The project originated in the year 2000, when after 5 years in the United States living there, I was called by my people to come and lead my people .I found my people in a difficult situation, the culture, the spirituality, the language, the territory were in danger of disappearing. People looked like souls, without direction. We didn’t see any motivation to work on anything until we did an assessment on the state of the Yawanawa people. We called the eldest and wisest people in the village and brought everyone together in Yawanawa and made a simple philosophical reflection of who we were in the past, how we lived, what we ate, what we believed in and how we were in the present and what we wanted to be in the future. At this time the Yawanawa cultural and spiritual manifestations were disappearing, our 93,000 hectare territory was demarcated with the wrong perimeter in 1983, leaving out many sacred places like cemeteries, river springs, places that our people used to hunt and fish, we had no economic alternative and our people were suffering from many diseases that could not be treated in the community with our traditional medicines.
Why are you passionate about your project?
I am Yawanawa, the son of a great leader, I was the first young leader to assume the general Yawanawa leadership of the Yawanawa people, I was born and raised in the Yawanawa indigenous land, as a young man I went to study in the city and returned to help my people together with my wife and my daughters. After a few years we lived in the United States of America, in a ceremony the shamans (spiritual leaders) decided that my people needed me and I had to return to take over the leadership of my people, even without knowing for sure, I left American life and I never returned and I am still living and working with my people.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
Since I was young I came to study in the city, I worked for many years in the local and national indigenous movement. I have participated in almost all international conferences related to indigenous peoples and the environment. I have participated in the international indigenous movement as an active voice for the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples. I have lived in the world of transversality between the traditional world and the modern world. I am a philosopher, photographer, writer, filmmaker and I was initiated on the path of Yawanawa spirituality. My life and work experience already developed accredits me for this work I have undertaken in the Yawanawa Life Plan.
I am aware of the problems of the Yawanawa people and other indigenous peoples of our Amazon region, we have work to find a way that makes it possible to reach our longed-for self-determination of our people by living and preserving our knowledge and our sacred territory.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
When we started working with my people, culture and cultural and spiritual manifestations were almost forgotten. Nobody wanted to know about the Yawanawa, because according to the surrounding society the Yawanawa had nothing to contribute to our state. By listening the elders, we could have an opportunity, because we were as sitting in a gold mine and feeling poor while surrounded by minerals, that the world need it. We wanted to show the world that the Yawanawa had to contribute with their rich culture and spirituality, with their knowledge, with medicines, with art, songs and prayers. We saw there is opportunity to awaken what was sleeping. In 2001, we dedicated a week to singing, dancing, praying, Yawanawa cultural and spiritual manifestation. Using our Uni (Ayahuasca) medicine we awaken in our people our true Yawanawa spirit that was asleep within us. Since then, we have created the Yawanawa Festival, which served as an example and inspiration for all other indigenous people who sought to strengthen themselves as the indigenous people. Every year the Yawanawa organize, the Festival and the Mariri , it is an event that brings together people from all over the world who come to experience culture and spirituality.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
I have the ability to visualize things before they come to fruition, I trust my intuitions and follow the signals. In the beginning, many people in the community do not believe that my ideas could ever come true, more with the passing of time, everyone saw it happen. My father before he died in 2005 when all the Yawanawa were gathered to start our week of festivity, he with tears said, “Today I can die happy, because I never imagined that my people could return to who we really were, I had never seen them all painted and with traditional clothes, only in a dream,]. Today I can see it, I thought I was going to die sad, but I’m going to die happy because I know that my people will never get lost from the way we came from.
I had to break taboos to strengthen the culture, when two young Yawanawa women came to me to ask if they could be initiated by the shamans, to be future shamans. When all the men in the village were against me, I was in favor because for me culture is not static, but it adapts to time to strengthen culturally.
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Tarauacá, AC, Brasil
What type of organization is your project?Nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
Our project is innovative because it is the first time that an indigenous people has made a plan for the next few years to protect their territory, making sustainable use of it, strengthening culture and creating a new sustainable economy in the village that does not damage the environment.
What is your theory of change?
My theory of change, involves the full participation of all indigenous members including women, the decision-making process that involves the common good of all. So everyone is empowered and part of the process of building a bigger vision where everyone benefits.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our plan for next year is to protect Yawanawa territory, creating a support base for surveillance with the installation of radio, internet, boats, GPS and reopening of the territory's demarcation paths.
In the next 5 years, we hope that the projects of each village can be realized and implemented. we need resources to implement our life plan.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
One of the major barriers to implementation is the lack of resources and support from the Brazilian government, which does not have a support policy for indigenous peoples.
To overcome these barriers, we are creating partnerships with private companies and non-governmental organizations that are sympathetic to indigenous and environmental issues that support us in implementing the plan.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
We have a partnership with North American cosmetics company AVEDA Corporation Inc. This has been a 27 business partnership that has serve as a business model between an indigenous peoples and a company.
What is your business model?
our business model would be our life plan that was created according to our needs and background, it is a business model that is gentle with our environment, and our people.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
the path to sustainability is to implement the Yawanawa life plan's economic activities, such as the açaí berry project, the ethnotourism program, art crafts project, urucum project, and others.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
We managed to make a partnership with the local government to process the açai berry, I hope that in the next 3 years, this project can generate resources for the community
We managed to make a partnership with a clothing company called FARM Rio, this partnership has already been generating profits for few projects of the Yawanawa life plan.
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
We are looking to implement the Yawanawa life Plan as a full for 1 million dollars. since it is includes all aspects, to secure health, education, territory, economy, infrastructure, communication, training, etc.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
about 300,000 dollars