Ailton Krenak was born in the Doce River valley in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. A member of the Krenaki tribe, at 17-years old he learned how to read and write, became a graphic producer and journalist, and dedicated himself to the indigenous movement in Brazil. 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 backwards steps being taken on indigenous rights. A charismatic leader, he brought together the 180 different indigenous tribes of Brazil and worked tirelessly for Indigenous Rights to become part of the country’s official constitution.
In the late 80’s Ailton Krenak and Chico Mendez united and in doing so helped overcome historical tensions between the indigenous peoples and the rubber tappers. Together they created a stronger Forest People’s Movement to stand up to the destructive forces threatening them. In 1988 Gaia launched the Forest People’s Support Group and the Forest People’s Fund, to enable them to organise their resistance and educate society about their diverse cultures and role in maintaining life in the forest. Today, the young indigenous leaders involved are leading their communities and still working closely with Ailton to advocate for indigenous rights and the protection of their ancestral lands across Latin America. Ailton remains a great inspiration to Gaia. He taught us about indigenous cosmology in the early days of our work, and was one of the first with whom we built an lifelong ‘affectionate alliance’.