Juma Xipaia

Picture of Giraffe Juma Xipaia

Juma Xipaia was only 13 when she decided that she had to protect her Xipaya people from corporations that were devastating Brazil’s vast lands, focused only on extracting its riches, no matter what happened to the people who had lived there sustainably for untold generations.

Other indigenous groups were being robbed of their lands and livelihoods; she was determined that the Xipaya would fight back. She joined resistance efforts and testified publicly about what was happening. “These miners and loggers are heavily armed. They have no problem with threatening us. They want confrontation. And we are afraid.”

It was reasonable to be afraid; in Brazil, environmental activists are regularly murdered. Nevertheless, Xipaia went on to lead the indigenous students at her university, and then created the Juma Institute, an advocacy movement for which she was a frequent public speaker.

By the time she was 24, she was chosen by the Xipaya to be their leader, the first woman ever to hold that role.

As a medical student, she began speaking out against corporations that are flooding indigenous regions with manufactured foods, replacing native people’s healthy diet with one that’s led to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, diseases that are new to indigenous people.

The death threats arrive regularly, and got all too real when she was stalked by armed men in a pickup truck who actually rammed her car, causing it to roll repeatedly. The police did nothing. Xipaya, who was pregnant at the time of the attack, took refuge in Switzerland with her husband and children.

But the Xipaya need her. With her family in the safety of a faraway land, she's returned to Brazil saying, “I don’t want to flee. I did nothing wrong. They did."