Amazonian Tribe Wins $3 Million Lawsuit Against Timber Companies Who Illegally Deforested Land

Joelle Goldstein

An Amazonian tribe in Brazil has won a lawsuit against the family-run timber companies who illegally deforested their land more than two decades ago, officials recently announced.

The long-fought dispute between the Ashaninka indigenous community and the Cameli family ended with the tribe receiving $20 million Brazilian real ($3.4 million USD) in compensation, which they will use to preserve their culture and lands, according to a press release from the Attorney General's Office in Brazil.

The deforesting companies also agreed to issue a formal apology "for all the harm done, respectfully acknowledging the enormous importance of the Ashaninka people as guardians of the forest, zealous in the preservation of the environment and in the conservation and dissemination of their customs and culture," the press release states.

Antonio Augusto/Secom/PGR Officials signing the settlement

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The settlement, which was finalized on April 1, came 24 years after a public civil action was filed against businessman Orleir Messias Cameli and three other people for illegally deforesting the tribe's lands.

According to the press release, Cameli's companies illegally cut and removed "hundreds of cedar and mahogany aguano trees" in the Kampa do Rio Amônia Indigenous Reserve during 1981, 1983 and 1985.

The Attorney General explained that the practice was illegal because the Ashaninka's lands were protected by law. Only Indians were allowed to hunt, fish or remove timber on those lands as "they do this rationally, without destroying hundreds of species."

Data collected from the process indicated that cutting down those trees, which were over 50 years old, each damaged "approximately 1,500 square meters of forest," and caused "siltation and animal escape," according to the press release.

Antonio Augusto/Secom/PGR Officials signing the settlement

With the lawsuit finally coming to a close, Attorney General of the Republic Augusto Aras said he hoped it would serve as a precedent for other legal conflicts in Brazil.

"What we did here was to comply with the Constitution, understanding that the indigenous have sacred rights guaranteed by the Magna Carta," Aras said in a statement. "You have the right to have a decent life, materially speaking, to choose your own destiny, to take part in political decisions, with respect to isolated communities."

Francisco Piyãko, a leader in the Amazonian community, also expressed his hope that the settlement would emphasize the need to respect all indigenous peoples in Brazil.

"We never accept to make an agreement in isolation, we work with transparency because it is an agenda that today is not just a right for our people. It became important for the rights of indigenous peoples as a whole," Piyãko said in a statement. "It is necessary to respect peoples, it is necessary to understand that rights are protected by the competent institutions, based on the Federal Constitution."

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"These resources come to enhance existing actions, to generate sustainability for our people, our land, so that it helps to strengthen us to continue the broader project of environmental protection and maintenance of our ways of life," Piyãko added.

Deforestation in the Amazon has been a concern for environmentalists, especially after fires ravaged through at a record rate in 2019 for weeks, threatening wildlife and Earth’s oxygen.

The Amazon, known as "the planet’s lungs," produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen and is a key factor in combating climate change, according to CNN.