The first time I heard about Charlie Taylor was the day he died. A friend rang to say that ranchers had attacked a group of Mayangna Indians in a forest near Musawas in Nicaragua, killing one of the Indians and injuring several others. Charlie—a forty-year old father of seven who farmed locally and panned for gold in nearby rivers—was the one who died.
On April 23, 2013, Charlie was part of a group of villagers who went to investigate after hearing that ranchers were chopping down forests to clear land for pasture, in territory managed by the Mayangna. It turned out to be true: When Charlie confronted the intruders and asked what they were doing on his peoples’ land, they started shooting. Charlie was hit and died a few hours later.
Since Charlie’s death, I have thought a lot about him and talked to people who knew him. What made him risk his life to defend the forest? What could I possibly say to his destitute widow, Ricalina Devis? Why are so many indigenous and community leaders being killed protecting rainforests? And how might I explain the urgency of this situation to urban friends and colleagues, who live in heated homes with running water, whose food and drugs come from stores? What do they have in common with the many millions of people who still depend directly on nature for sustenance, fuel and medicine?