Paiakan was hired by the Brazilian government in 1971 to facilitate the construction of the Trans-Amazonian highway system through Kayapo lands. Once Paiakan saw the nature of the project first hand, he quit his job and began to mobilize his people against the project. He took a splinter group of his home village and settled a new village named Aukre, where he set out to videotape the destruction of the rainforest and the Kayapo traditions.
Paiakan became known on the world stage, touring Europe and North America with public appearances and speaking engagements, sponsored by Friends of the Earth, the World Wildlife Fund and the Kayapo Support Group of Chicago in a campaign against the Altamira Dam project. Speaking at the University of Chicago, he said:
The forest is one big thing; it has people, animals, and plants. There is no point saving the animals if the forest is burned down; there is no point saving the forest if the people and animals who live in it are killed or driven away. The groups trying to save the races of animals cannot win if the people trying to save the forest lose; the people trying to save the Indians cannot win if either of the others lose; the Indians cannot win without the support of these groups; but the groups cannot win either without the support of the Indians, who know the forest and the animals and can tell what is happening to them. No one of us is strong enough to win alone; together, we can be strong enough to win.
Rape charge and subsequent trialEdit
In 1992, Paiakan was accused of raping a young white woman whom he had hired to tutor his children. He was accused of biting off the nipples and inserting both hands in the woman's vagina, among other things.  In 1994, Paiakan was acquitted, but in a 1999 retrial, he was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. The entire affair stigmatized not only Paiakan, but the entire indigenous peoples movement of which he had been such a key figure.:366 
Paiakan died on June 16, 2020, at the Hospital Público Regional do Araguaia in Redenção, Pará from COVID-19. He was around 65 years old at the time of his death. He worked closely with another Brazilian covid-19 victim, Missias Kokama.
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- Astor, Michael (2020-06-23). "Paulinho Paiakan, Indigenous Defender of Rainforest, Dies at 67". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
- "Arquivo VEJA". web.archive.org. Apr 12, 2010. Retrieved Jun 17, 2020.
- Brooke, James (5 July 1992). "Indian-White Rape Case Splits Brazil". The New York Times.
- Moore, Donald S.; Pandian, Anand (2003). "Pulp Fictions of Indegenism". In Moore, Donald S.; Kosek, Jake; Pandian, Anand (eds.). Race, Nature, and the Politics of Difference. Duke University Press. p. 365. ISBN 9780822330912.
- Cockburn, Alexander (9 September 1992). "A Crime in Benefit of Land Grabbers: Rape charges against a Brazilian Indian leader smell of a political frame-up". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- "Líder indígena Paulinho Payakan morre com Covid-19 no Pará". G1. Retrieved Jun 17, 2020.
- "Iconic Amazon indigenous chief Paulinho Paiakan dies of coronavirus in Brazil". Retrieved Jun 19, 2020.