1325 PeaceWomen
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“Only a profound change in our way of life, our values, and our attitudes can bring new life to our world”
United States, 1931 - 2005

Dorothy Stang, a Brazilian national, joined the congress of Our Lady of Nemur  in 1966 and later became a missionary in the Amazon, where she defended environmental causes and worker’s rights. For her commitment to the poor, she was declared an Honorable Citizen of Pará by the State Legislative Assembly. She received the Human Rights Award, given by the Brazil College of Law. On the 12th of February, 2005, she was assassinated after receiving six bullets at point blank. At that time, she was directing the Hope for Sustainable Development Project in the State of Pará.

Dorothy Stang was born in Dayton, Ohio in the United States during the time of the Great Depression. Her childhood was difficult due to the country’s state of extreme unemployment and social tension in the shadow of the war. In 1948 she entered the Convent of Notre Dame as a nun, and made her vows in 1956.

When she arrived in Brazil in 1966, she settled down in Anapu, a small town in the state of Pará in the north of Brazil. From that point on, her actions were very intense. She founded 22 schools and a Professorial Training Center. As the time passed, she developed from a promoter of education to a defender of the Amazon and of agricultural reform. Dorothy was a very positive woman, full of passion for her work and her commitment was contagious to those who worked alongside her. She would sometimes say, “We, as sisters of Notre Dame, dedicate ourselves to the poor people of the most remote and abandoned places. Living, eating and sharing every day with these people is our mission, and we feel obligated to do all that we can to help change their situation.” Her religious fate did not impose on her accepting other religions. “In the middle of all this violence, there are many small communities that have learned the secrets of life: solidarity, trust, equality, forgiveness, teamwork and sharing. It doesn’t matter to us what religious beliefs the people have, as long as they are guided by these human values,” says Dorothy.

Her greatest ambition was the Hope for Sustainable Development Project, which planned to divide 130,000 acres of land among 600 farming families. The project directly collided with the interest of the foresters and big landowners that illegally exploited the resources of the Amazon forests, above all the exotic species of trees that neared extinction, such as the mahogany and cedar trees that sold at high prices in the black market. Dorothy had to learn to live with constant death threats, as did her co-workers. In 2004, they reported 10 death threats to the Court Justice of the state of  Pará. However, the Government did not take any form of action to guarantee their religious security. The state of Pará is one of the places in Brazil that registers the highest numbers of conflicts due to environmental and land reasons. Moreover, many of the big property owners still have workers that live in slave-like conditions. The region is considered one of the most violent places in the country.

Despite all of this, Dorothy did not allow herself to be limited by fear, and often wore a t-shirt that read, “The death of our forests is the end of our lives.” Twenty percent of the virgin forest has been destroyed in the past two decades. In August of 2004, 2500 acres of forest in the area of Anapu where Dorothy lived were cut down and burned. This brought Dorothy to travel to Brasilia to testify in front of an investigation committee for the destruction of the Amazon. Her religious fate helped her to persevere in her fight, but she recognized the great difficulties that confronted her: “I learned that three things are very difficult: to be taken seriously as a woman in the fight for agrarian reform, to believe in this tiny reform group of peasants and their capacity to organize and continue forward on their own, and to have the courage to give your life for the fight for change.”

The assassination of Dorothy Stang occurred on the 12th of February, 2009, at 9 in the morning while she directed a meeting of the Hope for Sustainable Development Project. Two gunmen shot six bullets at pointblank range that took her life. A wave of indignation and outrage took over Brazil. Although she had admitted many times that her assassination was possible, no one could believe that it had actually happened. The death of Dorothy Stang added to the deaths of more than 772 other peasants who had died in the last 30 years over debates of land in the state of Pará. Of those deaths, only nine cases had been brought to justice, and none of the assassins have ever been condemned of their crimes. The impunity of the state is obvious.

Dorothy never wanted to leave Brazil, and so her body is buried there. As she said, “I don’t want to leave, I don’t want to abandon these peasants who live in the jungle without any protection. They have the sacred right to hope for a better life in the land they live on and that they work on with respect and dignity for the environment. “

After her death, the National Forum for Agrarian Reform and Justice held responsible the Government of Lula for the huge delay in the actions of agrarian reform, affirming that the actions of the Federal Government of Pará “have been a rhetoric lacking in strength and ceding against oppression groups,” and adding bluntly, “Since the massacre of Eldorade of Carajas, (in which 19 peasants were assassinated by police), until the death of Sister Dorothy, the politics of the Government of the state of Pará has been the defense of the interests of the foresters and the landowners.”

Since her assassination, the work of Dorothy Stang has continued and the demands of the people of the Amazon are more relevant than ever on the international agenda. In 2009 the Forum for Global Society in Belem was dedicated entirely to the issue of the Amazon and its inhabitants. The rights of the peasants to the land and the conservation of the Amazon have been converted into one of the most important issues of this Forum. In the 2008 meeting of the United Nations, Dorothy Stang was awarded the late Human Rights Award that is granted ever five years to those people who have played a relevant role in the defense of Human Rights.