The drumming at aboriginal day celebrations Thursday, June 21, at Queen's Park was very emotional for the leader of a delegation of First Nations people from a village of 30 in northern Brazil.
Through a Portuguese translator, Toe Pankararu tells me the throbbing is eerily familiar and makes him feel like weeping. "There are so many indigenous people from so far away, and we are family and facing the same struggle for survival and rights,' he says.
The activist, with his perfect teeth and ear-to-ear smile, comes from an area near Aracuai that is sparsely populated by Pakararu and Pataxó people. Along with two others, he's just taken his first-ever plane ride to join the festivities and meet with food security specialists at Ryerson U.
But first there are gifts. Judy New, a Comanche from Texas who works as a nutritionist with the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, has brought along presents. The delegation, in turn, pull out theirs, which leads New to insist on sharing another gift, one of her earrings.
I'm left sitting on my hands with nothing to contribute, witness to a once universal culture based on gift exchange, a time-tested strategy for becoming wealthy and secure thanks to sharing, not private accumulation of money. Family indeed - they sustain this ancient tradition despite having been separated by thousands of miles for thousands of years.
The community Pankararu, Yamana Itxai Pataxó and Yamamy Pataxó hail from was amalgamated and relocated two years ago by Brazil's government because it was no longer safe or possible to uphold their lifestyles in their birthplace, an area subject to intensive high-tech logging and agriculture.
Invasive logging and farming are the new "Wild West" that threatens the planet's 200 million remaining indigenous and Aboriginal peoples, about 4 per cent of the world's population.
European colonial invasions from the 1500s to 1900s focused on brutal grabs of furs, spices, silks, jewels, gold and silver. Today's imperial appetites are for hydro and irrigation dams, oil and gas fields, timber, rainforests cleared for ethanol crops and livestock feed, and rare plants ripe for patenting - not to mention once-isolated tourist jewels now accessible by car.
All this imposes heavy-industry norms of settlement on areas until now havens of marginalized neglect. Just like the pattern for non-human endangered species, the tipping point for endangered ethnicities comes when homelands and habitat become endangered spaces.
Although Aboriginal peoples account for such a small proportion of the world's (and Canada's) population, the transformation of the formerly overlooked spaces that supported traditional ways of life is central to the desperate hunger that stalks about 850 million people across the planet.
About half the world's poor and hungry live in rural and food-producing areas that are remote and infertile - too rocky, too steep, too arid, too vulnerable to mud slides or floods, too far from market access points. Another 8 per cent are herders, fishers and forest dwellers. Only 20 per cent live in cities.
Solutions to hunger bring Aboriginal gifts to the fore. Universally among First Nations, food is not separated from fibre, fuel, medicine, art, decoration, jewellery, ceremony and ritual, all of which flow from food as surely as do protein and carbs.
Only Western moderns treat food as a one-purpose fuel for their bodies, and more recently their cars. This cultural foundation is both the secret to First Nation cohesion, and, as assimilators have learned, the key to undermining the core of their being.
Food is central to the identity of the Pankararu and Pataxó villagers, says Geralda Soares, a Brazilian researcher who accompanied them to Toronto. "Food is life. It is not just land, but culture, history and geography," she says. Indigenous villagers eat common foods: manioc (also known as cassava or yuca), melons, sweet potatoes, corn and fish. They work as a community and have common rituals around protecting crops and celebrating harvests.
The villagers are very hopeful about the future, says Cecilia Rocha, host of their tour and director of Ryerson's Centre for Studies in Food Security. Their plan, she says, is to grow food using the techniques known among far-out policy wonks as permaculture or agro-forestry. These methods are second nature to peoples who do not see forests and perennial plants as hostile to food production, as do "modern" agriculturalists producing staple grains.
Manioc's roots are rich in starches, calcium and vitamin C, and its leaves are a rich source of protein. It grows plentifully and easily in forest clearings, as do starch- and vitamin-rich sweet potatoes, and manioc one of indigenous Brazil's contributions to world cuisine. (Acai, the antioxidant-rich juice now attracting a cult following, also hails from Brazil's forest ag, as does the nutrient-rich yerba mate tea.)
Research by Jules Pretty of the University of Essex in England establishes that such strategies - rather than imitations of industrial agriculture - are the best way to solve global problems of rural poverty. The revival of such age-old crop and food production methods is a contribution by indigenous peoples to world agriculture.
In June, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez introduced a sweeping ban on all genetically engineered seeds and products and pledged to devote the country's fields to what he described as the country's indigenous crop, yuca (manioc), instead of soybeans for cattle.
That's one instance of food-based sovereigntist politics. What's going on in a tiny village of 30 permaculturalists in Brazil is much less visible politically, but no less bracing.
ABORIGINALS BY NUMBER
Central and South America 25 million
Myanmar 11 million
Philippines 6 million
China 67 million
Canada 1.3 million
United States 7. 8 million