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Honoring the Legacy of Terry Turner


January 23, 2016
Christian Poirier / Amazon Watch

Commentary: "In the years I've worked with Amazon Watch I've met many extraordinary people. In that time I've drawn inspiration from powerful indigenous leaders, staunch environmental and human rights defenders, political pioneers, and media magnates. I had one of my most inspiring encounters in 2011 when working alongside the famed anthropologist Terence Sheldon Turner in the Brazilian Amazon."

Special to Environmentalist Against War


(January 20, 2016) -- In the years I've worked with Amazon Watch I've met many extraordinary people. In that time I've drawn inspiration from powerful indigenous leaders, staunch environmental and human rights defenders, political pioneers, and media magnates.

I had one of my most inspiring encounters in 2011 when working alongside the famed anthropologist Terence Sheldon Turner in the Brazilian Amazon. The lessons garnered from our collaboration in Piaracu, a remote Kayapo village, have helped guide my work to this day, providing key insights into bridging worlds to effectively support the struggles of our indigenous partners.

Terry's incisive ethnographic work with the Kayapo people, and his longstanding advocacy on behalf of their culture, forests, and rivers, earned him unique respect and admiration from Kayapo leadership, who called him "Wakampu." I witnessed this camaraderie during the Piara├žu assembly, called by legendary Kayapo Chief Raoni to build resistance among the Xingu River's diverse indigenous communities to the Belo Monte dam.

Terry's profound knowledge of Kayapo culture and flawless understanding of the Kayapo language was forged through years living alongside his friends on the Xingu, allowing him to interpret the words of his old friend Raoni Metuktire with subtlety and precision.

Bearing witness to these two great minds working together to defend the Amazon and its peoples gave me hope that our determined, collective efforts will finally overcome the rapacious and destructive model espoused by the Brazilian government.

When I heard of Terry's passing last year I felt as though a great light had been extinguished. The struggle of indigenous and local communities for social and environmental justice in the Amazon, in the context of today's mounting challenges, cannot afford the loss of great leaders like him. However, it's clear that Terry's legacy lives on.

As I watched members of the Kayapo organization Instituto Raoni accept the prestigious 2015 Equator Prize in Paris, I felt as though Terry was in the room with us. Indeed, his wife Jane and daughters Vanessa and Allison were in the audience, honoring his memory.

The Instituto's victory was in part a result of his support. In recognition of his contributions, the Kayapo paid warm tribute to Wakampu in a beautiful letter.

Terry is survived by his wife Jane and daughters Vanessa and Allison who are committed to continuing the defense of the Amazon and the people who call it home. Today, at the request of his family, we honor Terry's legacy with the Terry Turner Memorial Fund, which aims to raise financial support for Amazon Watch's efforts to support Brazil's indigenous communities and protect the rivers and forests they depend upon for survival.

To accompany the announcement of the fund, Terry's family has made a founding contribution with a $5,000 matching fund, set to match the contributions of others. It seems fitting that Terry Turner's name will live on alongside our work with the Kayapo and other indigenous partners in Brazil.

Together we seek to put an end to environmentally disastrous dams and other threats, while ensuring that the rights, cultures, and lands of the Amazon's indigenous peoples receive the respect and esteem they deserve.



The Kichwa tribe in the Sarayaku region of the Amazon in Ecuador believe in the 'living forest', where humans, animals and plants live in harmony. They are fighting oil companies who want to exploit their ancestral land. A delegation of indigenous people traveled all the way to the Paris COP21 climate conference in Paris to make sure their voices are heard.

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