From Fly Water Travel's Ken Morrish:
The Kayapo’s miraculous emergence into the 21st century with their land, culture and largely subsistence-based lifestyle all still intact is one of indigenous culture’s greatest success stories. When European involvement in the Amazon took off in 1900, there were 4,000 Kayapo. By 1970 there were less than 1,400, due largely to measles and other introduced diseases. Today, however, the Kayapo are thriving with over 9,000 members and 45 villages spread across a roadless, legally recognized territory half the size of the state of Washington. They are also indirectly famous, as their connectivity to their natural world and the fierceness with which they defend it inspired the storyline of Avatar. Of Brazil’s 250 indigenous tribes, the Kayapo are considered the most prosperous and powerful. Of even greater significance is that their connection to their traditions and the natural world upon which they depend remains continuous and unbroken.
Kayapo lands are located in the midst of one of the world’s highest deforestation regions — an agricultural frontier with expanding road network and little of any form of law enforcement. Kayapo have fiercely protected their vast territory but face increased pressure from illegal incursions for goldmining, logging, commercial fishing, and ranching. The NGO alliance provided the Kayapo with new tools to monitor and control their territories and by about 2010 the Kayapo were successfully defending most of their territory. With the election of a new government in 2019, the struggle ramped up. President Bolsonaro vows to open indigenous lands to development and “integrate” indigenous people into national society -in other words, to destroy huge areas of forest and throw indigenous people into a pit of inequality, poverty and disenfranchisement.
The overarching goal of the Kayapo-NGO alliance is to empower the Kayapo to defend their constitutional rights, protect their ecologically intact territories and develop sustainable economic autonomy. The Kayapo and their partners have worked over almost two decades to grow and diversify a portfolio of sustainable conservation-based enterprise, generate equitably distributed benefits, and strengthen territorial monitoring and surveillance over a vast roadless area demarcated by some 2,000 km (1,250 miles) of border.
The Kayapo defend the largest block of indigenous territory in Brazil and, in fact, the largest officially protected tract of tropical rainforest anywhere in the world. Kayapo territory is the last large tract of forest surviving in the entire southeastern Amazon and therefore, the last refuge for a mind-blowing number of species of animal and plants that cannot exist outside the Kayapo domain in this high deforestation region including such icons as: jaguar, giant otter, giant armadillo, white whiskered spider monkey, saki monkey, hyacinth macaw and harpy eagle; but also no less important timber tree species such as mahogany and many fish species that are being
logged and fished out everywhere else in the region.