The role of the indigenous Kayapó in environmentalist movements that oppose large-scale development projects in the Amazon is described. The analytic focus is on the construction of environmentalism within the context of opposition to hydroelectric dams along the Xingü River. The changing pressures on the Kayapó and the effectiveness of their responses are shown to be related to successive changes in dominant political-economic relations within the Kayapó region comprised by the extractive period, the bureaucratic period, and the multinational period. Based on historical experiences, I contend that Kayapó successes have been tied to their ability to cause or threaten political disruptions. Their current adeptness in producing media images as natural ecologists is a rhetorical stance related to a specific moment in the history of development in which the ability of the Brazilian government to marshal international financing is central to economic prospects within the Amazon. How a relatively marginalized people with few resources can cause political disruptions becomes a central question. Explanations proposing "culture" as a basis for resistance are limited if not placed in a broader political framework. An understanding of the Kayapó case has implications for the kind of proposals anthropologists make concerning development alternatives involving indigenous peoples.

This content is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.