An amazing academic adventure in the Amazon

By Costa Maragos Posted: July 28, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Kimberley Whitestar, who graduates this fall with an Anthropology degree, with momentos from the village of A’ukre in the Amazon.
Kimberley Whitestar, who graduates this fall with an Anthropology degree, with momentos from the village of A’ukre in the Amazon. Photo by Rae Graham – U of R Photography

She’s been lost in the jungle, bitten (twice) by one of the most painful insects in the world, and travelled a long distance to a place few people have visited or understand.

All this for six credit hours.

It has been well worth the effort for Kimberley Whitestar, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology this fall.

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Kimberley Whitestar has made her second trip to this remote village, south of the Amazon basin. Photos submitted by Kimberley Whitestar
Whitestar has now made her second trip to the remote village, south of the Amazon basin. It’s been a long and arduous journey to re-connect with the Kayapo, an Indigenous peoples.

“I travel to Toronto, to Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia to Maraba to Tucuma to A’ukre to Pinakiti, which is over 33 hours travel by plane and bus then plane and boat,” says Whitestar.

Whitestar made this trip in 2016, through a program organized by the University of Maryland.

She spent three months in the Amazon, earning six credits along the way towards her degree.

Anthropologists, tropical biologists and Kayapo instructors taught the course based in A’Ukre as well as the Pinkati forest camp. Her second trip now will add to her research towards a masters in visual anthropology.

“I really enjoyed meeting other students and university instructors combined with Kayapo teachings,” says Whitestar. “They made my learning experience easier and less stressful. I learned a lot about the Amazon environment and biodiversity.”

Whitestar lived with the Kayapo in A’Ukre where she learned about Kayapo culture and subsistence livelihood.
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“I am just grateful for the opportunity to learn, help and become family with the Mebengokre Kayapo people" - Kimberley Whitestar

“The Kayapo are still living like they have been for over 100 years and have not been assimilated into Brazilian culture,” says Whitefish. “They are not living in mainstream society and are protectors of the rainforest. They are warriors who have defended their livelihood against the Brazilian government, gold miners, rubber tappers, loggers and others. I am honoured to be able to learn about their ways and bring attention to the threats they are facing.”

However, visiting this part of the world has its own challenges.

“I got lost briefly in the jungle and was bitten by two bullet ants, one on each ankle. They are called bullet ants because they give you the same amount of pain as being shot by a bullet. I was in pain for over a day and there was nothing I could do but meditate. The Kayapo used to use the bullet ant as an initiation for young men,” says Whitestar.

“It made me tougher knowing that I can handle the millions of insects, over 3,000 different kinds of fish in the rivers, and other predators.”  

Whitestar is travelling on an internship through the International Conservation Fund of Canada, where the money for the trip goes towards the protection of the Kayapo territory.  
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Whitestar is now working on her masters in visual anthropology.


Whitestar is from the Piapot First Nation and attended Lebret Residential School.

She’s been embraced by the Kayapo.

“In First Nation culture we do not just take immediate family as family members but we also have traditions in adopting people in to our families. We take adopted family as if they were our own,” says Whitestar.

“This is the same for the Kayapo. At the end of the program on the last day the eldest Chief Kryt called me up in front of the village in the Mens house. He said in Kayapo that I am a part to the Kayapo family and when I return the village is to acknowledge me as part of his family and do the crying ceremony.”

Whitestar’s Amazon adventure was made possible because of the strong support she received at home from family, friends, the Aboriginal Student Centre at the University of Regina, Piapot First Nation and The Press Box Sports bar which hosted a fundraiser for Whitestar.

“I am just grateful for the opportunity to learn, help and become family with the Mebengokre Kayapo people,” says Whitestar.

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