Tashka Yawanawá

Chief of the Yawanawá people in Acre, Brazil

Tashka has been working to restore the dignity and sense of identity of indigenous communities in Brazil through a series of cultural revitalization efforts and innovative business partnerships—proving that maintaining cultural integrity need not conflict with achieving economic prosperity.

Tashka  has developed a unique two-step methodology to facilitate both the economic and cultural revitalization of today’s indigenous communities.  Beginning with a host of activities and interventions designed to celebrate the traditions and values of the community. The goal of these efforts—including a week-long festival that features the artistry, traditions, and history of his people—is to alter the community’s own definition of wealth, and to counter the notion that they are mired in misery and poverty. Equipped with a renewed sense of self-worth and a clear understanding of their assets, the community members then identify ways in which they can use their cultural resources to fuel business deals on their own terms.

Rather than accept their role as the mere suppliers of raw materials, they form business partnerships with outside commercial enterprises with an explicit mutual benefit. Emphasizing the spiritual and cultural values of their people, they aim to influence the decisions and strategies adopted by his business partners, and to fuel strengthened consumer consciousness. Each of these pieces feeds into Tashka larger goal: To break the decades-long history of reliance on outside organizations and institutions, and in so doing, to empower indigenous communities through enhanced information access. To this end, they have developed a series of partnerships to facilitate information exchange between members of his community and various corporate, government, and social sector partners, so that future generations will possess both deep cultural knowledge and a modern education.

Having spent several years in the United States, Tashka inherently understand the forces at work in both his and the Western worlds. As a result, they serve as an unusually effective bridge between indigenous groups and the outside. Thanks to those efforts, the Yawanawá today maintain a balance between the modern and traditional: Enjoying a combination of strengthened spiritual and cultural identity, secured land-rights, and improved income generation, thanks to more effective, community-driven use of natural resources. Recognizing that most indigenous groups face many of the same challenges, Tashka is furthermore sharing his tribe’s experiences with other communities. Already, several other indigenous groups have replicated the festival in their own communities. Through partnerships with a variety of national and international institutions, Tashka aims to strengthen the ties between currently disjointed indigenous communities, and to demonstrate to all in the outside world that it is possible to both maintain one’s indigenous heritage and to do business within today’s globalized world.