Sister Dorothy Stang

Missionary and defender of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil

Dorothy Stang, missionary, environmentalist and human-rights worker: born Dayton, Ohio 1930; professed a nun of the order of Notre Dame de Namur; died Anapu, Brazil 12 February 2005.

Sister Dorothy Stang spent the last 22 years of her life fighting to preserve the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, while helping small peasant farmers to make a living from the patches of land they had carved out of the jungle.

Her work brought her up against powerful commercial interests: ranchers and loggers who had also moved in as penetration roads were driven deeper into the Amazon basin. Local people in the small town of Anapu, in Pará state, where she lived, said they had no doubt that her murder on Friday was the work of hired gunmen working for the landowners.

Dorothy Stang was born and went to school in Dayton, Ohio, and then entered the Cincinnati convent of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Sister Dorothy, as she became known, was sent to Brazil as a missionary by her order in the 1960s.

In the early 1980s she moved to western Pará and began working to encourage the small settlers who had migrated in their thousands from the arid north-east of Brazil, following the route of the great Trans-Amazonian Highway, to use sustainable farming methods on their plots of land. They had more to contend with than poor soils that degrade rapidly once the forest cover has been removed: there was also competition for land from politically influential individuals and companies involved in clearing the forest to raise beef cattle, grow soya beans and cut tropical hardwoods for export.

The current Brazilian government has tried to introduce tougher environmental protection laws. But, even so, more than 9,000 square miles of forest were lost in 2003.

Those at the sharp end of the fight to slow down the rate of clearance have always known that they are in a highly exposed situation, on the lawless Amazonian frontier, thousands of miles from the country's main cities. Sister Dorothy received many threats to her life. She died less than a week after a meeting with the human-rights minister, Nilmário Miranda, at which she told him that four of the small farmers she was working with had received death threats from pistoleiros hired by the landowners and loggers. They had their eyes on land earmarked for a sustainable development project in the Anapu region.

Sister Dorothy seems to have believed that her age and religious vocation would protect her and, according to the local authorities, she refused offers to provide her with a bodyguard. The landowners made no secret of the fact that they regarded her as a troublemaker.

Sister Dorothy had begun to receive official recognition for her work from the Pará authorities: she was made an honorary citizen of the state a year ago, and last December she was awarded a human-rights prize by the Pará branch of the Brazilian Bar Association.

Colin Harding

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: On behalf of a successful academy i...

Investigo: Finance Business Partner

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Investigo: My client, a global leader in providing ...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - West London

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: WEST LONDON - An excellent new opportunity wit...

Recruitment Genius: Florist Shop Manager

£8 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A Florist Shop Manager is required to m...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project