They do not want a single penny of dirty money. They do not want to continue the conversation. And they will not back down.

They are the leaders of 26 Kayopo indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon, who, in a letter to state energy company Electrobras, recently rejected an offer of $9 million to fund development projects in their region over the next four years.

“Our river does not have a price, our fish that we eat do not have a price, and the happiness of our grandchildren does not have a price,” they wrote. “We will never stop fighting: In Brasilia, or in the Supreme Court. The Xingu is our home and you are not welcome here.”

Electrobras is involved in the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, an $18 billion project that will redirect the flow of the Xingu River, on which the Kayopo and other indigenous communities depend upon for fishing. Upstream dams supplementing the Belo Monte Dam would directly affect the Kayopo, forcing them to relocate and find other means of survival.

The strong stand of the leaders of these tribes against a powerful company demonstrates their dedication to the preservation of their culture, history, livelihoods and environment. My hope is to travel to this area of the Amazon in the summer of 2013, embed myself in some of the most threatened communities and document the lives of the people who depend on the Xingu River.

Through portraits of the tribal members in their environment, I aim to capture their love of a land rich in biodiversity. My visual story will illustrate how far a community is willing to go to protect what they hold sacred.

I have a deep interest in the connection people have to their land, and this is what motivates me to explore the connection the Kayopo people have to a river that is threatened by what could become the world’s third largest dam. In the summer of 2012, I traveled to South Africa, where I documented the lives of women farm workers in the Stellenbosch region. Some of the photos I took, submitted to the Dorothea Lange fellowship committee, illustrate the strong women who have taken a stand against farm owners who threaten to remove them from the land on which their families have lived and worked for generations.

My ultimate goal with the proposed documentary photography project is to communicate to viewers the meaning of a river to its indigenous people, and to highlight the importance of helping to protect the things that are priceless to them.

Thank you for your consideration.

Molly Oleson
March 2013