Home>YLS 2023 - Keynote speech by Txai Surui


YLS 2023 - Keynote speech by Txai Surui

Replay the session and read a summary below.


Speech by Txai Surui, Young Leader, Brazil

Chaired by Arancha González, Dean, PSIA


While crossing the Boutmy amphitheatre, Txai Surui twiddled her fingers and hunched her back, whilst wearing her noble feather crown. After having climbed on the stage alongside Arancha González and carefully listened to PSIA’s dean moving introduction, she walked toward the lectern, took three deep breaths and blew a powerful wind of revolt.

“Don’t close your eyes”

Txai Surui, aged 26, embodies the forefront of indigenous fights against climate change. She was born in the Surui people, of which she proudly bears the name, in the Rondônia region of Brazil. She started by citing the name of her friends assassinated in the wake of their struggle against environmental destruction. Her people live under constant threat not only from industries, but also from the former Brazilian government itself, Txai explained. She continued. “I wonder if you ever get shocked at what is happening in the Amazon rainforest. If you do, don’t close your eyes.” Fuel poisoning fish, rivers, plants, is part of her daily reality. So, she came on the 16th of January 2023 to tell Sciences Po’s new generation of decision makers the Suiri people's history of capitalist development.

“Our genocide is also in their hands”

Txai Surui stressed the tremendous responsibility the European Union (EU) holds regarding pesticide use which kills both ecosystems and human lives every day. She declared “our genocide is also in their hands”. Not only does Txai believe in the EU’s potential to act, but she also encourages individual initiatives. She bravely challenged the floor to consider the draining of natural resources and reminded it that “the gold [we] use won’t turn into food and [our] money won’t buy life”. From Pakistan to the Amazon, and Paris, every living being is involved in Earth’s ecosystem. Based on this indisputable truth, Txai Surui denounced the many human rights violations committed on the behalf of economic growth. Her urgent message of humility resonated in her conclusion, “climate action is not an option; it is the only way to the future”.

“We were born, and we fought”

While the echo of her words reverberated with moved applause, Arancha González questioned the roots of her activism. Without hesitation, Txai Surui replied “we were born, and we fought”. Indeed, throughout her speech, she rarely talked as an individual, but rather as the representative of a strong wave rooted in the Amazon rainforest. Her voice got stronger when she claimed: “we need to be together”. Fifteen people united by a common territory, representing more than a thousand individuals, are the reason which keeps her moving, even though her worries keep her awake at night. “My big concern is my family, my people, who I love”, she confided.

“We have suffered the worst years, but things will change”

Following the indigenous leader's vibrant intervention, students had the opportunity to ask her their own questions. Questions mainly focused on Lula’s comeback, colonial responsibilities and political strategy. Txai Surui told her admirative audience that, when she attended Sonia Guajajara’s (head of Brazil’s new Ministry for Indigenous People) and Marina Silva’s (Indigenous Minister of the Environment) investiture ceremonies, she finally “saw indigenous people in the place they deserved.” However, she expects indigenous issues to become a transversal part of Lula’s new presidency, since, she explains, “we need to teach people we have other ways.” Therefore, she hopes Brazil will move away from post-colonial dependence on exportations and actively sustain the protection of the Amazon rainforest. According to her, “[they] have suffered the worst years, but things will change.”

“We feel the mountains, we feel the trees, we feel the birds”

To achieve this ambitious, but necessary agenda, Txai Surui relies on multilateralism and communication. “We are using social media to denounce, to preserve our culture”, an action she completes by writing as a columnist in the newspaper “Folha de São Paulo”. The young activist also has faith in the potential of the United Nations becoming a privileged space for expression. After one hour of fruitful exchanges, Arancha González closed the keynote speech by putting into words the general atmosphere of Boutmy amphitheatre in which, from now on, “we feel the mountains, we feel the trees, we feel the birds.”

(c) An article by Jade Alves-Gabiron, a student in Master in Environmental Policy at PSIA.

More information about the Youth & Leaders Summit 2023.