VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Monday met Brazil’s legendary indigenous chief Raoni, who is on a European tour to highlight increasingly acute threats to the Amazon since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro took power.
The elderly Kayapo chief, internationally recognizable through his traditional lip plate and feather headdress, is seeking to raise €1 million ($1.1 million) to better protect the Amazon’s Xingu reserve — home to many of Brazil’s tribal peoples — from loggers, farmers and fire.
Raoni Metuktire, famous for his work campaigning in defense of Brazil’s rain forest alongside personalities like pop star Sting, is accompanied by three indigenous leaders from the Xingu.
The Vatican did not release details of Monday’s meeting, but the Amazon region will be the focal point of a world bishops’ meeting, or synod, to take place in October.
Local tribal leaders and conservationists are increasingly concerned about rampant illegal gold mining and logging that have devastated ancestral lands.
Raoni’s trip comes as the Amazon faces increasing threats from mining and farming lobbies who have found a champion in President Bolsonaro, a climate change skeptic.
There are hundreds of demarcated territories in Brazil, established in the 1980s for the exclusive use of their indigenous inhabitants, where access for outsiders is strictly regulated.
But Bolsonaro’s anti-environment rhetoric before and after winning last October’s elections has alarmed indigenous communities and green groups.
Bolsonaro has said he wants to “integrate into society” Brazil’s estimated 800,000 indigenous people who have long battled to protect their traditional way of life, away from towns and cities.
A number of recent reports have sounded the alarm over rampant destruction of the Amazon and threats to indigenous inhabitants.
An indigenous alliance warned last month that native peoples in the Amazon faced an “apocalypse.
They warned in particular of Bolsonaro’s pledges to allow more farming and logging in the Amazon, and to ease safeguards and grant more licenses for Brazil’s huge mining industry, and build more dams.