Women of the Amazon Series

Four Indigenous women pursue their dream and claim space practicing fire management

November/December, 2023 – The women in the Amazon Series features first-person narratives of successful women who overcome obstacles, to achieve their personal goals and work towards developing a resilient Brazilian Amazon. Living in traditional communities in the forest, these Indigenous and riverine women keep the Amazon standing and work to contribute to the development and protection of their territories and people. 

This edition features four Indigenous forest brigade members – a role that is generally played by men – who faced sexism in their communities. They managed to juggle multiple tasks at home, caring for children, and taking care of health emergencies.  Today they serve as an inspiration for other women.

They represent the Apinajé, Gavião, Krikati, and Xerente Peoples.


. Janaina Ribeiro Apinajé lives in the municipality of Tocantinópolis, in the state of Tocantins. She is a mother of two children and is currently enrolled in a rural education course, at present she serves as a volunteer forest firefighter for the Apinajé people. 

“I decided to join the fire brigade following my husband’s example. I knew that looking after our land is not only the responsibility of our men. We need to do it too, and we are learning how. Before joining the group, I found it difficult to leave home because of my children. Many women give up doing other things only to take care of their children. Today, I am a mother and a college student, but I also find the time to share what I know with all female warriors in our fire brigade, and to attend our meetings. College is teaching me to leave shyness behind and express my thoughts and my dreams. 

We are creating things that we could not have done before, using technology to learn and develop a number of activities. We, Apinajé volunteers, recognize that we are capable of doing things that were a barrier to us, such as public speaking, leaving the community, and pursuing our dreams. 

The first meeting of Female Indigenous Forest Firefighters gave us an important opportunity to share our experiences. We realized that we are not alone in fighting to protect our water springs, our forests, and our people. My dream is for all Indigenous women to claim space, knowing that they are capable of doing it, and not giving up on protecting and caring for the environment. Together we are stronger.” 


. Marcilene Gavião lives at the Governador Indigenous Land, in the state of Maranhão. She is the mother of two children, an artist and a squad leader in the Gavião Volunteer Fire Brigade.

“When I joined the brigade, it was difficult to balance the work with my responsibilities at home, my children.  My husband did not understand what I was doing. He showed some resistance at first. I stood up to him, as my mother also participated in the fire brigade, and today my husband supports us, performs his duties as a father, and takes care of the house. 

When I participated in the Indigenous Women's March, I understood more about our struggle to gain space. Before this volunteer fire brigade, our people did not hold meetings for women, and we could not participate in our men's meetings. Today we don't depend on them anymore. We develop our own work plans and create our space. The fire brigade strengthens our culture and keeps our mother tongue strong. 

The first meeting of Female Indigenous Forest Firefighters was a historic moment. We learned new things, exchanged experiences, and heard the stories of women who previously joined. The Xerente firefighters serve as an example. We are working hard to get where they are, with training, equipment, and contracts. 

We can see that our environment is changing with the impact of climate change. Droughts are longer, fires are more frequent, and we need to be prepared. Our plan is to get training and safety equipment to fight alongside our men, joining forces and helping to conserve the forest.”


. Rose Krikati lives in the São José village, at the Krikati Indigenous Land, in the state of Maranhão. She is 18, and is a leader in the Krikati people's volunteer fire brigade.

“My mother used to fight to recruit women to the movements. As a young leader, I also want to fight for my people and the Indigenous people of Brazil. Together with our elders, we want to preserve our culture, our songs, our mother tongue, and our traditions, including our log races.

When we created the group of female volunteer firefighters, we felt strong and inspired. Today, women may occupy whatever space they want, and we have new experiences. We feel proud to be wherever we want. I hope more women join the movement.

We used to see our men leave to fight forest fires, and we started to get together and discuss how we could help them. We want to work collectively. 

My dream is to see more and more women join us, and for them to be hired too.”


. Katiane Xerente lives at the Xerente Indigenous Land, in the state of Tocantins. She has three daughters, is a nursing assistant, and is studying Geography in college.  She is a proud member of the Xerente Indigenous fire brigade.

“In the past, I just stayed at home and looked after my daughters. I was happy enough just being a nursing assistant. I didn't think about learning new things. But my husband supported me and helped to encourage other women to join the Indigenous brigade. I realized that I should aim for more.

At first, the other men in the fire brigade didn't want women to participate. There was some resistance. Many people are still sexist, and believe that women should not leave their home. But things are changing, and more women are pursuing their studies. 

It was difficult for me – home, husband, daughters, work. But I'm not one to give up on the things I do, and now I can find the time for all my tasks. We made history among the Xerente when we introduced women and hired women in the brigade.

The fire brigade helped me open up my mind to the world: it gave me more knowledge, and helped me learn how to speak in public. I had an opportunity to travel by plane, for example, something I had never done before. 

My youngest daughter used to say that she looked up to her father. Now that I'm a firefighter, she says she'll also become one because of me. In one of the activities, a 5-year-old girl said she wanted to be like the female firefighters. Without realizing it, we are becoming a mirror for children and  women.”