Ailton Krenak, from the Krenaki tribe, was born in the Doce River valley, in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. When he was 17-years old, Ailton emigrated with his parents to the State of Paraná. He learned how to read and write at the age of 18, and became a graphic producer and journalist. Since the 1980's Ailton has dedicated himself to the indigenous movement. In 1987, he captured media and public attention by painting his face black while delivering a speech in the National Congress, as a gesture of mourning for the retrocession in proceedings on indigenous rights.
In 1988 he took part in the founding of the União das Nações Indígenas (UNI), an intertribal forum seeking representation for the indigenous movement at the national level, and in 1989 he participated of the movement Aliança dos Povos da Floresta, which brought together indigenous peoples and rubber tappers for the protection of the forest and of the people that live in it. He was awarded the Onassis International Prize in 1990. In recent years Ailton returned to Minas Gerais to be closer to his people. He participates in the Núcleo de Cultura Indígena, a NGO that promotes the culture of Brazil's indigenous groups.