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Striving for Co-Existence: Aaron Vincent Elkaim’s Work in the Amazon Basin

Posted by on October 28, 2016 | Photographer Interviews

For three decades, the indigenous people of the Xingu River in Brazil have been at the forefront of a battle against the construction of one of the world’s largest hydroelectric plants, the Belo Monte Dam. The Xingu River is home to 16 indigenous tribes, and is a biodiversity hotspot in the Amazon Basin. It’s here that photographer Aaron Vincent Elkaim traveled for his long-term ongoing series “Where the River Runs Through.”

Elkaim, who studied cultural anthropology and film in university, has always been interested in original communities. He was raised in Winnipeg, where Canada’s largest number of indigenous people reside.

Shot over the course of two years, “Where the River Runs Through” is Elkaim’s third long-term project. Through his work, he shows how deeply connected the Xingu people are with their land. “The history of conservation, as defined by American conservation, has been to keep people out of the land, because people are destructive,” he says. “And that’s backwards, because these people’s lives, their whole way of life, is [organized] around surviving with the land. So they’re deeply invested in protecting the forests around them.” In fact, Elkaim points out, these indigenous communities can help the country to monitor the land. As “the eyes and ears of the forest,” they can raise the flag in the case of illegal logging or mining.

After decades of construction and legal battles, the Belo Monte Dam is projected to be finished in 2019. Now, at the neighboring Tapajós River, the Munduruku people are resisting the next proposed dam, the São Luiz do Tapajós. The direct effects of such dams include river flooding and drying, the development of the land and increased mining operations in the Amazon, all which cause displacement. Elkaim recently received a $20,000 Alexia Foundation grant, and for the next year he’ll pursue the story, traveling to Brazil to document three stages of the issue: the fight against dam construction, the reality of the situation during construction, and the continuing effects of a dam. “I’m interested in documenting the whole narrative of hydroelectric [construction] in the Amazon,” Elkaim explains. “It’s not just about the third-largest dam in the world. It’s about the long-term destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which is the most important ecosystem on our planet.” (Read the full story)

–Lucy McKeon

All photos © Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

March 29, 2014. A group of boys climb a tree on the Xingu River by the city of Altamira, Brazil. One third of the city will be permanently flooded by the nearby Belo Monte Dam.

A group of boys climb a tree on the Xingu River by the city of Altamira, Brazil. One third of the city will be permanently flooded by the nearby Belo Monte Dam.

 

December 8, 2014. A Munduruku family watch Brazilian Soap Operas in the village of Sawre Muybu. Although living completely off the land their villages have generators, fridges and televisions. Many indigenous communities are provided with these goods by government and industry hoping to win their support for the proposed dams.

A Munduruku family watch Brazilian Soap Operas in the village of Sawre Muybu. Although living completely off the land their villages have generators, fridges and televisions. Many indigenous communities are provided with these goods by government and industry hoping to win their support for the proposed dams.

 

November 28, 2014. A Munduruku man looks at a map of where the San Luiz do Tapajos Dam will be built during an occupation of the FUNAI offices (Brazil's National Indian Foundation) in Itaituba, Para, Brazil. The occupation was in protest to the fact that government has refused to publish official documents that would recognize Munduruku traditional territory.

A Munduruku man looks at a map of where the San Luiz do Tapajos Dam will be built during an occupation of the FUNAI offices (Brazil’s National Indian Foundation) in Itaituba, Para, Brazil. The occupation was in protest to the fact that government has refused to publish official documents that would recognize Munduruku traditional territory.

 

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A Munduruku woman and her baby brother in a hammock in the village of Praia Do Mangue, Brazil. The Munduruku are currently fighting against government plans to construct the São Luiz do Tapajós Dam that would flood much of their traditional lands.

 

NOVEMBER 27, 2014. Munduruku indigenous youth fire arrows for fun during the Carnival of Resistance protest against plans to construct a series of hydroelectric dams on their river in in Para State, Brazil,

Munduruku indigenous youth fire arrows for fun during the Carnival of Resistance protest against plans to construct a series of hydroelectric dams on their river in in Para State, Brazil.


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