Empowering Women: A Legacy of Respect for Indigenous Knowledge and Culture

Indigenous leader Diolina Krikati in the forest near the village - Photos: Marizilda Cruppe / USAID
Through Diolina’s work and the communities’ collective efforts, she seeks to strengthen the role of women

January, 2024 – Diolina Krikati remembers when she was a shy girl, playing freely in her home village, always cherishing one key value: respect for traditional knowledge and the elders. She has the ability to put that value in place as one of the Coordinators of the Maranhão Indigenous Women Network.

She has become a leader in her community, the village of São José, at the Krikati Indigenous Land. In recognition of her new role, her village chief gave her a headdress – a symbol of honor for the Krikati people, which is only given to those who excel in mobilizing Indigenous rights.

Diolina gifted the same headdress to chief Raoni Metuktire, an elder and leader of the Mẽbêngôkre-Kayapó people, internationally recognized for his role in the fight for the preservation of the Amazon and its original peoples. She met him in Belém during the Amazon Dialogues, an event held in 2023 shortly before the gathering of social movements at the Amazon Summit.

Diolina attended the Free Land Camp (ATL or Acampamento Terra Livre) representing her people in Brasília. The event is held annually and considered the largest Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Organizations in Brazil.

“It was thrilling. A headdress is not simply an ornament that we wear. It has a spiritual value that makes us proud to wear it. And it was through my fight for Indigenous rights that I was able to visit other places, including Brasilia,” she explains, from her village surrounded by forest. 

Diolina always sought to value her people’s culture, traditional knowledge, and territorial protection. Her work is guided by a sense of collectivity, focusing on strengthening the role of women. Diolina is 32 years old and a mother of four. She is one of the four coordinators for the southern region of the Maranhão Indigenous Women’s Network (AMIMA), an entity that represents the Krikati, Guajajara, and Gavião peoples. 

AMIMA is an organization that receives USAID support to strengthen their organizational skills since 2019. Developed in partnership with the Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (CTI); Instituto, Sociedade, População, e Natureza (ISPN), and other Indigenous organizations.

Diolina was appointed AMIMA Coordinator in 2023 at a USAID supported assembly. “My name was put forward at the last minute during the assembly. I was very happy to represent our collective, and especially to be the first Krikati to become an AMIMA coordinator.”

USAID is a catalyst and supporter of Indigenous Peoples, amplifying their voices and understanding that they are key to the conservation of biodiversity in the Brazilian Amazon. USAID supports the implementation of Brazil's National Policy for Environmental and Territorial Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI). 

Led by local organizations representing Indigenous People, these activities have contributed to protecting, restoring, conserving, and sustainably managing Indigenous lands' natural resources and the well-being of Indigenous communities.

With a focus on territorial management and conservation of natural resources, another initiative supported by USAID in the São José Indigenous Land, where Diolina lives, is the project to restore native vegetation.

The Indigenous People build a nursery of native species in the community. Under the coordination of environmental agents and brigade members, the nursery provides sumaúma seedlings – considered sacred by Indigenous Peoples –, açaí, tamburi and others, which are planted in degraded areas.

Seedlings of native species appear in the foreground inside a nursery set up on Indigenous Land


The initiative (find out more hereis part of the Forest Management and Fire Prevention Program in Brazil, run by the United States Forest Service (USFS). The program is implemented by the National Indigenous Peoples Foundation (FUNAI), USFS, and the National Center for the Prevention and Combat of Forest Fires (PrevFogo), linked to the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). 

“There are firefighters in our village who, in addition to fighting fires, have been looking after our seedling nursery and participating in our project to recover medicinal plants and species that we use on a daily basis. Through our work, we also encourage the participation of women,” says Diolina, who is a licensed teacher and has a degree in Natural Sciences.

As firefighters, women have become increasingly involved in their communities, and finding their voice. To promote experience sharing, the women held the first Female Indigenous Forest Firefighters meeting at the São José village, bringing together representatives of four Indigenous peoples. 

The discussions included initiatives aimed at strengthening female participation (find out more here).

“We want to make women aware that they are capable of many things, and that each one has their value. Through partnerships that strengthen our projects and bring us closer together, we are able to achieve more and more. We want a country with respect, without prejudice, and one that embraces cultural diversity—without forgetting to preserve Mother Nature,” she adds.