By Judy Bird

Jodie Woodward of George Gordon First Nation is gearing up for the educational trip of a lifetime. The third year Indigenous Studies student at the First Nations University of Canada will be embarking on a trip to Brazil from July 29 to August 16 to learn about the Kayapo, an indigenous tribe living in the rainforest of the Amazon.

Woodward first learned of the Kayapo tribe during a university class. “I learned about natural resources extraction, exploitation, governmental policies, and also the negative effects of exploitation, what it has on the local Indigenous people. I learned about the rights that Indigenous people have; they don’t have hardly any rights in South America,” she said.

The Kayapo are being threatened with pollution, hydroelectric dam projects that would flood their land, illegal land sales that allow cattle ranching on their traditional lands, and illegal logging. Despite these challenges, they have managed to maintain their traditional way of life largely because they remain isolated from the outer world.

During her three weeks in Brazil, Woodward will be staying at a research staying, and spending every day with the Kayapo.

“I’ll be learning about their culture, about forest ecology, and about the negative effects with this development,” said Woodward.

Along with being a university student, Woodward was the Vice President of the U of R Indigenous Student Students’ Association in 2013-14 and the President in the 2014-15 year. She’s also a single mother of an 8-year-old boy, and the caregiver for her 9-year-old nephew and 12-year-old niece.

She has family in Fort McMurray and spent her summers there, and can relate to what the Kayapo are facing in their struggle.

Brazil Woodward Tar Sands Healing Walk

Jodie Woodward (right) carried a sign during the Tar Sands Healing Walk in honour of her late uncle who started the walk. Photo courtesy Jodie Woodward.

“I’m pretty familiar with the negative effects of resource extraction and sharing and also to the treaties,” she said.

Her late uncle started the Tar Sands Healing Walk. Woodward took part last year, holding the flag in honour of her uncle during the final quarter of the walk.

“Just seeing all the negative effects, the air quality, there’s no grass whatsoever, it’s really devastating walking in what is supposed to be land. It was pretty traumatic. I’ve seen the negative effects of deforestation so I can only imagine what the rain forest will actually look like and the impact of it,” said Woodward.

The course, titled Brazilian Amazon: Environmental Conservation and Indigenous Peoples, is offered through the University of Maryland. Because it’s not part of her regular degree program studies, Woodward has had to raise the funds, about $10,000, just to cover the cost of tuition, airfare and immunization. She has received support from her mother, and fundraising help from her professor at FNUniv, Dr. Andrew Miller.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said her mother, Roxanne Woodward. “She has always had an interest in our own First Nations culture and traditions, and for her to be able to have the opportunity to learn another tribal custom’s traditions, for me, it’s for her to gain knowledge. The more knowledge that you gain, the more that you have capabilities to open doors to whatever you want to pursue.”

“It’s a chance to build a special kind of rapport with another Indigenous community that’s struggling against a similar set of choices,” said Dr. Andrew Miller with FNUniv.

“They are far away but some things are similar. They are a people that have a great deal of natural resources that are not under their control to a very large degree, and they have persisted to the present because of their isolation. However, the modern world is coming knocking, and is finding ways to use those resources whether they like it or not and whether they benefit from it or not. They have, in the last few years, made a great deal of press for themselves by taking a very strong stand against development and they’ve become masters of using media, using video and audio recordings to reach out to the world and say ‘these are the things that are happening to us’. There are things to learn there,” he said.

Woodward has raised most of the funds for her trip, but is still accepting donations for her airfare and other expenses. Anyone who would like to assist with her funding can email her at jj_rosalee@hotmail.com.

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