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Amazon Frontiers conference brings indigenous leaders, filmmakers to highlight urgent environmental issues

The Amazon region’s vital interdisciplinary relevance will be on display April 5 and 6, 2018 at Amazon Frontiers, the Fourth Annual Global Brazil Conference at Duke University.

“We chose the name ‘Amazon Frontiers’ for the conference because the Amazon is a frontier that plays out in many different contexts,” said Paul Baker, Duke Brazil Initiative co-director and Professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke.

The Amazon remains, in part, a wild and remote place harboring the world’s greatest biodiversity and, probably, the world’s greatest number of threatened species. At the same time, the Amazon is an urban frontier with many rapidly expanding population centers. The Amazon is an agricultural frontier, with the growth of mega-farms and burgeoning infrastructure for agricultural export. The Amazon hosts the world’s greatest river, until quite recently, flowing across the continent uninterrupted by manmade barriers. Now the Amazon is a frontier for massive hydropower construction projects, largely fueled by external loans. The Amazon is a remaining frontier for indigenous culture. Experts, invited from Brazil and locally, will introduce each aspect of the Amazon Frontier, legal rights, health care access, conservation, biology and geology, and hydropower during this conference.

The keynote session on Friday, April 6 at 2:30 p.m. in Richard White Lecture Hall will feature one of Brazil’s best-known indigenous leaders, Afukaka Kuikuro, Paramount Chief of the Kurikuro Nation in Brazil’s Xingu Valley.

Afukaka will discuss “the role of the Kuikuro people in the global village” in dialogue with anthropologist Michael Heckenberger, popularly known as the main academic consultant for the award-winning book and movie The Lost City of Z. Heckenberger’s research has transformed the world’s understanding of human-environment relations in the Amazon.

Following the discussion, Afukaka’s son, Takumã Kuikuro, an acclaimed filmmaker, will show the world premiere of ITO, a documentary about fire prevention in the Amazon forest.

“These men are heroes of environmental and indigenous rights in the Amazon,” Baker said of the Kuikuro leaders and Heckenberger. Filmmaking by and about indigenous women will be featured on Thursday, April 5 at 5:15 p.m. as Mari Correa of Brazil’s Catitu Institute will show and discuss two films dealing with the organization’s training of and collaboration with women in the Xingu Valley.  

One of the more urgent central questions of the conference—has incremental environmental damage in the Amazon region progressed to the point that it will bring about the collapse of the entire Amazonian ecosystem?—will be discussed during a webinar on Thursday, April 5 at 1 p.m. in East Duke 209 with a variety of international experts. Environmental issues will also be highlighted Thursday afternoon during a panel on sustainable development and Friday when University of Texas-Austin geologist Edgardo Latrubesse discusses recent plans for hydropower projects on a river that until recently flowed uninterrupted across the continent for 4,000 miles without even a bridge crossing it.

The Amazon Frontiers program also includes panels on Amazonian biodiversity featuring speakers from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Brazil’s National Institute for Amazon Research; on health care access in the Amazon region; and on indigenous law.

All conference events are free and open to the public. and will take place on Thursday, April 5 in East Duke Room 209, and Friday, April 6 in Richard White Auditorium, 1308 Campus Drive on Duke’s East Campus.

Amazon Frontiers is hosted by the Duke Brazil Initiative and the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, with support from the von der Heyden Fellows Program Endowment Fund, the Hanscom Endowment, and the Duke Office of Global Affairs. Additional sponsors: Kenan Institute for Ethics, Arts of the Moving Image, Romance Studies, and the National Science Foundation.