8 Women with a new vision for Earth

Juma Xipaia


The Activist

Indigenous Xipaya leader; director, the Association of Indigenous Students at UFPA

“I am what I was taught to be, just like my ancestors were and what my children will be: defenders of the standing forest, ensuring our existence.”

Meet Juma Xipaia, a Brazilian Indigenous activist belonging to the Xipaya people. A mother, wife, activist and medical student at the Federal University of Pará, she became the first woman to become chief of the Middle Xingu region at the age of 24, taking charge of the village of Tukamã.

“I was born walking the paths of my ancestors, a path of struggle and resistance,” says Xipaia, adding that her people had to work for years to earn formal recognition of their existence and the demarcation of their territory

“Paving this path as a young female chief was extremely challenging in every way. A male chief doesn’t give birth, doesn’t menstruate, doesn’t deal with household duties and doesn’t handle childcare in the same way.”

Xipaia played an active role in resisting the construction of the Belo Monte dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams, on the Xingu River in the Brazilian state of Pará. In 2017, she uncovered a corruption scheme involving companies delivering Indigenous services.

Faced with intimidation and attempts against her life, she fled Brazil and spent a year in Switzerland, filing a complaint at the United Nations – but she ultimately chose to return to the Amazon rather than live in exile.

“Nothing was worse than being away from my children for safety reasons,” Xipaia says. “There are many wounds in my soul caused by this development process that ignores and silences, especially women leaders. In the face of inhumane circumstances, we cannot remain silent.”

Now back in the Amazon, Xipaia has continued the fight for Indigenous rights and autonomy. She founded the Juma Institute in 2020 and serves as an advisor to the Xingu Women’s Movement and other Indigenous and environmental initiatives.

Her community is now building a village called Carimã, which will be a center for the practice of traditional medicine and customs, where traditional and scientific knowledge will coalesce to foster sustainable development solutions for her community.

“I envision the future from the present,” Xipaia declares. “There will be no change in the future if the present continues to neglect and trade lives for gold, feeding economic interests at the expense of rivers and food contaminated by mercury. The future is now!”