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Indigenous leaders urge students to take action to protect the Earth

Brazilian Indigenous leader, preservationist and activist Arassari Pataxó shared the traditions and travails of the Pataxó Indigenous tribe – one of 380 tribes in Brazil – on both RE campuses during Earth Week to inspire students to take action to protect the Amazon and the Earth. Wearing traditional dress and speaking in Portuguese through a translator during his April 18 visit, Pataxó explained that he spoke on behalf of his tribe's elders, who "are very worried about the destruction of the environment."
Addressing students at the Lewis Family Auditorium and Swenson Hall, he said Indigenous people make up five percent of the Brazilian population but are responsible for 80 percent of the preservation efforts. More than 500 children have died from mercury poisoning resulting from gold mining in the Amazon, and 44,000 hectares of forest have been lost as trees have been cleared to raise cattle. "The fight is not just for me, myself or you, but for your children," he said. "I wanted to touch you in your heart to leave here thinking, what can you do?"

Invited as part of the school's celebration of Earth Week, Pataxó was welcomed by RE's Director of Environmental Sustainability Kelly Jackson. A day earlier, RE sixth- and seventh-grade students heard from Tori Linder, the co-founder and managing director of the Path of the Panther Project. 

Pataxó told students his feather headdress featured feathers of the same length to symbolize community and equality. "We need to be together in our communities," he said. "There is nobody above anybody else." The name Pataxó translates to the sound of water, he told students. Feathers in his headdress represented respect, nature and unconditional love. "The headdress is much more than aesthetic," he said. "It's my diploma; it represents my values."

The Pataxó people's traditions are passed down by word of mouth – there is no writing tradition, he said. Our "elders are sacred to us," he said. "They are people who have experienced the most. We take care of them, and we listen to them."

Their wisdom inspires the younger generation. "We are considered the guardians of the forest," he said. "We are the barrier between destruction and preservation."
Founded in 1903, Ransom Everglades School is a coeducational, college preparatory day school for grades 6 - 12 located on two campuses in Coconut Grove, Florida. Ransom Everglades School produces graduates who "believe that they are in the world not so much for what they can get out of it as for what they can put into it." The school provides rigorous college preparation that promotes the student's sense of identity, community, personal integrity and values for a productive and satisfying life, and prepares the student to lead and to contribute to society.