Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953

Student Life
& Society

Screenshot from documentary The Letter on YouTube

Brazilian Chief Dadá Borarí brings indigenous knowledge to VU Amsterdam

In his quest of stopping deforestation in the Amazon, the Brazilian indigenous Chief Dadá Borarí visited VU Amsterdam. And while VU researchers could help him reach his goal, maybe more importantly, Dadá and his entourage bring valuable indigenous knowledge to the Netherlands.  

Chief Dadá was invited by VU professor of Legal Philosophy Wouter Veraart. Their encounter is the first step towards a collaboration between VU Amsterdam, the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA) in Brazil and Dadá. This emerging collaboration aims to fight deforestation in the Amazon, improve indigenous education and bring indigenous culture to the Western world. 

Chief Dadá Borarí
Dadá Borarí is Chief General of the Maró territory in Brazil, located in the state Pará. This state is 34 times the size of the Netherlands and is Brazil’s leading deforestation state. His continuous battle against the deforestation of his home grounds yielded Dadá many enemies among farmers and wood companies, causing him to need permanent police protection. Dadá stars in the new documentary The Letter, in which he is one of four people invited by Pope Francis to talk about the planetary crisis.    

Nature is a school

Dadá: “We have to show our struggles in protecting the forest. UFOPA has helped us a lot and created space for indigenous students. But that’s only at one university. It’s essential to show the world indigenous education. I have this really strong idea in my head, that school is not separate from nature protection. It’s integral. To us, the entire forest, even the entire nature is our school.”

Veraart heard about Dadá through an acquainted Dutch criminologist, Tim Boekhout van Solinge. He has worked together with Chief Dadá since 2015 and together they managed to shut down woodcutting in Dadá’s region of the Amazon. Veraart thinks we can learn a lot from the indigenous worldview. “How can we make nature an integral part of our legal system? Also in our law education, we should give ecology a more central role. Currently, our education is heavily human-centred, with nature as a manipulable object and mankind as the owner of this object. That’s not right in my opinion. So we are looking for an equal collaboration, through which we can improve our education systems at both sides and mutually learn from each other.” 

Future schools

When talking about the future, Dadá says his people need more advanced education. “We don’t want to be living in the past, where people talk on our behalf. We want to speak for ourselves. Education is fundamental in our territories and in our traditions. We want to bring our indigenous vision to the rest of the world.”

Attendees of the meeting, with on the bottom row from left to right: Chief Dadá, Tim Boekhout van Solinge and Gilberto Rodrigues. Wouter Veraart is standing in the middle of the top row. (Picture: Bryce Benda)

In the future, every indigenous territory will have an indigenous school, Chief Dadá hopes. “These future schools are on the one hand traditional, with indigenous knowledge, and on the other hand modern, using scientific knowledge and technology. The old and the new merged.” 

VU science meets indigenous knowledge

According to Gilberto Rodrigues, a UFOPA professor present at the meeting, that’s where VU Amsterdam comes into play. Rodrigues specializes in indigenous education and he is a long-time collaborator of Chief Dadá. “At UFOPA, we work with indigenous people, and we apply indigenous knowledge. But we don’t have the means to help them further. VU Amsterdam is a bigger and more structured university, with more advanced technology. I could form the bridge between modern, scientific knowledge and the indigenous people, who have more advanced knowledge of nature protection.” 

Guest appointment

Veraart is enthusiastic about this idea. “We were talking about having a guest appointment at each other’s institute. That’s a very tangible way of collaborating. I think we have a lot to offer at VU Amsterdam. Researchers from four different faculties are interested in this new collaboration, including a criminologist, a philosopher, an anthropologist and an ecologist.”
Chief Dadá concludes: “I’m very happy that I can bring the voice of the indigenous to the rest of the world. My personal suffering is of little importance, I’m always representing the indigenous people.” 


Stick to the subject and show respect: commercial expressions, defamation, swearing and discrimination are not allowed. Comments with URLs in them are often mistaken for spam and then deleted. Editors do not discuss deleted comments.

Fields with * are obligated
** your email address will not be published and we will not share it with third parties. We only use it if we would like to contact you about your response. See also our privacy policy.