Volunteer Fire Brigade: A Solidarity Network for Xerente Women

The group assess their results and design new pathways for 2023

February, 2023 — A group of Xerente women from the Female Indigenous Volunteer Fire Brigade met January 19-20 in Tocantínia, Tocantins to trade experiences and plan for the year. They created a committee to strengthen social dialogue and shape 2023 activities.

The event was promoted by the United States Forest Service (USFS) with support from USAID/Brazil at the Cachoeirinha village, in the Xerente Indigenous Land. Representatives from the USFS and the Tocantins state government, including the State Secretary for Native and Traditional Peoples, Narubia Werreria Karajá, attended the event, together with 15 women firefighters.

Participants held a program evaluation learning event and highlighted that the volunteer brigade enabled them to exchange experiences and reinforce their work. As a result, they merged into a solidarity network. Members also spoke in their mother tongue throughout the meeting. 

The Xerente were the first Indigenous people to form an all-female fire brigade in 2021, during the “Volunteer Fire Brigade Training Program for Forest Fire Fighting and Prevention”, delivered by PREVFOGO/IBAMA in partnership with the USFS, ABIX, and FUNAI-TO. 

USAID/Brazil supported the activity under the Forest Management and Fire Prevention Program in Brazil (more details here).

The program aims to reinforce Brazilian federal government agencies (ICMBio, FUNAI and IBAMA) and non-governmental organizations to effectively implement large-scale Integrated Fire Management in protected areas in the Amazon. 

Multidisciplinary approach — In addition to fighting forest fires, the Xerente Volunteer Firefighters engaged in local environmental educational activities collecting seeds, producing, and planting seedlings. They specialize in prescribed and controlled burning in and around vegetable gardens. For this, the fire brigade members are divided according to their roles. 

During the meeting, Ana Shelley Xerente and Katiane Xerente were appointed as Indigenous representatives in the newly formed Executive Committee, and Ana Violato Espada and Halaine Matos became USFS representatives.   

The committee will establish new partnerships, gather support for activity development, and design a detailed work plan. They will include continued training for fire brigade members and dialogues with Apinajé Indigenous women (more information here).

The predominant savanna vegetation ecosystem has periodic forest fires; hence the need to train Indigenous firefighters to prevent and control them. Female participation is difficult because some women find it hard to reconcile housework, childcare, and handicraft production with routine firefighting work. Twenty of the 29 women trained as volunteer firefighters in 2021 are still active. Online training delivery is also difficult due to the limited internet access.

“We have to multiply our roles to become who we want to be, and continue feeling that we are women. I am a school teacher in our village, I work in the fields, I play soccer, I am the mother of two boys, and I am a volunteer firefighter,” says Rosineide Xerente, who was at the meeting.

The Xerente Indigenous Land is located in the municipality of Tocantínia, in the Legal Amazon state of Tocantins. With an area of 168,000 hectares, it is home to a population of around 2,600 Indigenous people, distributed in more than 100 Akwẽ (Xerente) villages.