Aaron Vincent Elkaim: Update from the Amazon

March 29, 2014. A group of boys climb a tree on the Xingu River by the city of Altamira, Brazil. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

March 29, 2014. A group of boys climb a tree on the Xingu River by the city of Altamira, Brazil. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

Aaron Vincent Elkaim was The Alexia 2016 professional grant recipient for Where The River Runs Through, a project which documents and strives to understand the consequences of Brazil’s major hydroelectric expansion on the ecosystems, communities, and industries within the Amazon Rainforest. The award allowed him to spend more than two immersive months continuing his work on this vital ecosystem.

Earlier this year, Aaron took over our Instagram sharing not only images from the project, but also his thoughts on the situation. We rely on our photographers to be our eyes in the world. His words derived from first hand experience are stronger than anything we create in retelling, thus we are sharing them directly on our blog.

March 23, 2016. The partially operational Belo Monte Dam is seen on the Xingu River. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

March 23, 2016. The partially operational Belo Monte Dam is seen on the Xingu River. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

The controversial Belo Monte mega dam has been in planning for over three decades. After being halted by indigenous protests and international outcry in the late 80’s it was redesigned and pushed through with construction beginning in 2012 amidst renewed protest. Today the dam is mostly complete blocking the unique environment of a part of the Xingu known as the Big Bend. Numerous indigenous tribes and riverine communities in the region have been impacted and one third of the city of Altamira has been permanently flooded by the nearby Belo Monte Dam displacing over 20,000 people.

The dam is the fourth largest in the world, by installed capacity. While the dam is central to my project “Where the River Runs Through” it is the life of the people who have made the river their home that truly intrigues me. Their wealth is provided by nature and no material compensations can every replace the way of life and connection to nature they are losing.

March 13, 2014. Children attend a roadblock on the Trans-Amazon Highway in protest of the Belo Monte Dam. Before and during construction protests became a regular part of peoples lives, with people believing them to be the only way to try to stop the dam and have their voices heard. In the end, even though the world had already listened and cared about the injustice, the dam was built. It seems Money an Power just need to wait for the right moment to succeed in their agenda, and that the only way to overcome this is to find a way to change the global economic system that concentrates so much power to the few. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

March 13, 2014. Children attend a roadblock on the Trans-Amazon Highway in protest of the Belo Monte Dam. Before and during construction protests became a regular part of peoples lives, with people believing them to be the only way to try to stop the dam and have their voices heard. In the end, even though the world had already listened and cared about the injustice, the dam was built. It seems Money an Power just need to wait for the right moment to succeed in their agenda, and that the only way to overcome this is to find a way to change the global economic system that concentrates so much power to the few. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

The story of Belo Monte, is more than a story of a hydroelectric dam, it’s the story of Power. Brazil, like much of the world, is a country where power resides in the hands of a corrupt few. There are serious allegations of corruption around the dam. According to a senior construction executive who testified that the Belo Monte dam was used to generate 150m reais ($41.4m) in donations to the ruling coalition.

Belo Monte is expected to be complete by 2019. Due to its redesign and removal of previously planned supporting dams it will be highly inefficient running at around 39% capacity annually. Many critics fear that supporting dams that were in the original plans will later be built to increase year round production.

March  2016. Many residents of Altamira and the surrounding areas who have been displaced by Belo Monte have been relocated to new communities such as Agua Azul (Blue Water) seen here. The new communities are far from the river and city centre where the people used to live and offer little in the way of employment. Alcoholism and crime have become major problems.  Looking at these new neighbourhoods I can't help but feel the mechanization and ghettoization of land and humanity in our current economic system. Natural resources are meant for profit and exploitation, and the people who get in the way are put into ghettos and given enough money for some modern conveniences to distract them from the life they have lost.  Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

March 2016. Many residents of Altamira and the surrounding areas who have been displaced by Belo Monte have been relocated to new communities such as Agua Azul (Blue Water) seen here. The new communities are far from the river and city centre where the people used to live and offer little in the way of employment. Alcoholism and crime have become major problems.
Looking at these new neighbourhoods I can’t help but feel the mechanization and ghettoization of land and humanity in our current economic system. Natural resources are meant for profit and exploitation, and the people who get in the way are put into ghettos and given enough money for some modern conveniences to distract them from the life they have lost. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

If the Altamira dam was built according to original design, it would flood an additional 6,140 square kilometers and impact 25,000 more indigenous peoples. An independent study done by the The National Amazon Research Institute estimates the construction and operation of Belo Monte has contributed to greenhouse gas emissions of an amount that would require 41 years of optimal energy production (including the now aborted Altamira Dam) in order to reach environmental sustainability over fossil fuel energy. This realization shatters the lie that large scale hydroelectric energy is a tool in fighting climate change.

Standing in the face of this monster, which so many human hands have built, pushed through by corrupt elected officials and power brokers with their sheer determination, I have realized that my goal cannot be to stop this dam or even the next. The fight for our planet, its rivers, forests, seas, oceans, and lakes is a fight that must happen first within us. Until we can change our priorities, we will always be able to validate destruction.

March 31, 2016. Fisherman Raimundu Morad Araugo collects fruit from the trees he planted where he once lived on the banks of the Xingu River during a visit with some anthropologists and researchers. Norte Energia the company building the Belo Monte Dam demolished his home and filled his well with rocks to prevent his return. The land will only be flooded during heavy rain years every five or six years. He received compensation to buy a new home close to the city of Altamira, but his livelihood and connection to the land and river has been decimated. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

March 31, 2016. Fisherman Raimundu Morad Araugo collects fruit from the trees he planted where he once lived on the banks of the Xingu River during a visit with some anthropologists and researchers. Norte Energia the company building the Belo Monte Dam demolished his home and filled his well with rocks to prevent his return. The land will only be flooded during heavy rain years every five or six years. He received compensation to buy a new home close to the city of Altamira, but his livelihood and connection to the land and river has been decimated. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

I have no faith in the power brokers, but I choose to have faith in humanity and in our ability to change. So I work to open a window for empathy and the realization that the earth is not only our mother but is also our only home, and that to continue to rape it in the name of a bastardized vision of progress we sever the potential of ourselves and our grandchildren to see true beauty, live true life, experience true freedom and understand our connection to the eternal. It may take sacrifice, but we can change ourselves and when we do, we can fight to change and save the world together.

April 2014. Mutton Birds are seen at Rio Novo on the Iriri Extractavist Reserve. The Iriri is a tributary of Xingu River and is in the Belo Monte sphere of influence.    Every time I come to the Amazon Rainforest, I am constantly awestruck by the diversity of life and the tranquility present in this place. The sounds of the forest engulf you both day and night. The birds, insects, fish from the river, manioca, wild fruit and animals, everything is here that provides to nourish the body and soul. Spending time in this place with people who survive off the land, you realize what the true necessities of life are, and the true meaning of freedom. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

April 2014. Mutton Birds are seen at Rio Novo on the Iriri Extractavist Reserve. The Iriri is a tributary of Xingu River and is in the Belo Monte sphere of influence.
Every time I come to the Amazon Rainforest, I am constantly awestruck by the diversity of life and the tranquility present in this place. The sounds of the forest engulf you both day and night. The birds, insects, fish from the river, manioca, wild fruit and animals, everything is here that provides to nourish the body and soul. Spending time in this place with people who survive off the land, you realize what the true necessities of life are, and the true meaning of freedom. Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Alexia Foundation

Currently, Aaron is working on the next chapter in this project. He is exploring the legacy of Hydro development on the indigenous communities in his home province of Manitoba, Canada where Lake Winnipeg has been turned into worlds the third largest reservoir.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim will be joining us at a special reception at The University of Miami April 8 at 6.30 p.m. Works from his project, and from Mary F. Calvert’s Women’s Initiative Project will be on display. Mary will also be in attendance. Learn more about the reception here. You can see Aaron’s full Instagram takeover here at: instagram.com/alexiafoundation/

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