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Meet Bolsonaro's unlikely indigenous ally

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Irisnaide Silva is female, Brazilian, indigenous, and she's found an unlikely ally: Brazil's nationalist president Jair Bolsonaro.

The 32-year-old is the leader of the Macuxi tribe – one of two main indigenous groups in the Amazonian state of Roraima.

For decades her family picked and panned their land, scouring the hills for diamonds and gold.

They kept digging even after the government marked the land as indigenous territory in 2005 – a measure that prohibited mining despite protests from her tribe.

Now, Silva has the ear of none other than Bolsonaro.

The right-wing leader is abhorred by the global green movement for his eagerness to develop the Amazon rainforest.

"You (indigenous) have a lot of land! Let's use this land! When it comes to mining, Raposa Serra do Sol and Yanomami, underground, state of Francisco Rodrigues (Politician and former governor of Roraima), have billions, trillions of dollars, this need not even be discussed. Are we going to remain poor? Being enslaved by NGOs?"

Silva has twice met with Bolsonaro in the capital Brasilia.

The first time was soon after he took power in January 2019

to discuss a bill that would authorize mining on native lands.

It’s not clear if the bill will make it through Brazil’s unwieldy Congress nor how lucrative mining would be on these lands.

But Bolsonaro has made the bill a 2021 priority.

And by teaming up with some indigenous people like Silva, activists say Bolsonaro is exacerbating tensions within tribes through divide-and-conquer methods that historically helped destroy native lands worldwide.

Many indigenous associations also see Silva as a traitor, manipulated by rapacious intruders eager to grab lands and resources.

She does not care.

"We always appreciate that, dressing well, eating well, having a car. This has been evolving, today we are looking for that. If we can dress better and better, we will do it!"

And she does have some support from within the indigenous community.

Workers at this mine near Napoleão sweat from dawn til dusk with pickaxes to get 4% of the mining profits.

Diggers take 74% and those with machines to extract gold take the final 22%.

But it’s enough, according to the town’s indigenous leader Carpejane Lima.

"The importance of mining not only for my community but for the others is also the development it is bringing. Those who didn't own a bicycle, now do. Those who did not have a motorcycle, now do! Those who didn't own a car, now do. Those who didn't have a house are now building one."

Video Transcript

- Irisnaide Silva is female, Brazilian, indigenous, and she's found an unlikely ally, Brazil's nationalist president Jair Bolsonaro. The 32-year-old is the leader of the Macuxi tribe-- one of the two main indigenous groups in the Amazonian state of Roraima.

For decades, her family picked and panned their land, scouring the hills for diamonds and gold. They kept digging even after the government marked the land as indigenous territory in 2005, a measure that prohibited mining despite protests from her tribe. Now Silva has the ear of none other than Bolsonaro. The right-wing leader is abhorred by the global green movement for his eagerness to develop the Amazon rainforest.

JAIR BOLSONARO: [SPEAKING IN PORTUGUESE]

- You have a lot of land. Let's use this land. When it comes to mining, Raposa Serra do Sol and Yanomami, the states of Francisco Rodrigues, have billions, trillions of dollars. This need not even be discussed. Are we going to remain poor? Being enslaved by NGOs? Silva has twice met with Bolsonaro in the capital Brasilia.

IRISNAIDE SILVE: [SPEAKING IN PORTUGUESE]

- The first time was soon after he took power in January 2019 to discuss a bill that would authorize mining on native lands. It's not clear if the bill will make it through Brazil's unwieldy Congress nor how lucrative mining would be on these lands. But Bolsonaro has made the bill a 2021 priority. And by teaming up with some indigenous people like Silva, activists say Bolsonaro is exacerbating tensions within tribes through divide-and-conquer methods that historically helped destroy native lands worldwide. Many indigenous associations also see Silva as a traitor, manipulated by rapacious intruders eager to grab lands and resources. She doesn't care.

IRISNAIDE SILVE: [SPEAKING IN PORTUGUESE]

- We always appreciate that, dressing well, eating well, having a car. This has been evolving. And today we are looking for that. If we can dress better and better, we will do it!

- And she does have some support from within the indigenous community. Workers at this mine near Napoleao sweat from dawn till dusk with pickaxes to get 4% of the mining profits. Diggers take 74% and those with machines to extract gold take the final 22%. But it's enough, according to the town's indigenous leader, Carpejane Lima.

CARPEJANE LIMA: The importance of mining not only for my community, but also for the others is also the development it is bringing. Those who didn't own a bicycle now do. Those who didn't have a motorcycle now do. Those who didn't own a car now do. Those who didn't have a house are now building one.