Indigenous Communities in Brazil Protest Encroachment on Land Rights

The annual Free Land protest takes on a new sense of urgency under Bolsonaro’s far-right government.

Photo of the Brazilian flag by by  Rafaela Biazi  on  Unsplash .

Photo of the Brazilian flag by by Rafaela Biazi on Unsplash.

Last week, more than 4,000 indigenous people from over 300 tribes across Brazil gathered in Brasilia to set up camp in front of government buildings for three days of cultural celebrations and protest.

While the Free Land protest is an annual event, it has taken on a new significance this year under president Jair Bolsonaro and his far-right government’s encroachment on the rights of native people and their territories. Al Jazeera writes that according to The Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB), the central organizer of the gathering, this year the event occurs in a "very grave context".

Recently, Bolsonaro promised to stop the development of new indigenous reserves, and to revoke the protected status of established land reserves. Bolsonaro has even gone so far as to publicly question the need for indigenous reserves at all.

The Guardian writes that among the new far-right government’s projects is a movement to enable commercial farming and mining on indigenous reserves. One of the reserves targeted is the Yanomami territory, Brazil’s largest reserve which already experiences threats from illegal gold miners.

“We are defenders of the land, we are defenders of the Amazon, of the forest,” Alessandra Munduruku, one of the representatives of the Munduruku tribe told the Guardian. “The white man is [...] finishing off our planet and we want to defend it.”

Instead of directly handling the demarcation of Brazil’s indigenous reserves, the government has given the project to the agriculture ministry, a branch controlled by the farming lobby, a powerful organization which has been known to oppose indigenous land rights (Guardian). Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous congresswoman in Brazil, told Al Jazeera that during her time in office she had become aware of just how deeply the government was to indigenous rights. “The government is completely anti-indigenous,” she said, “[Jair Bolsonaro] is only open to those who defend mining and land grabbing, which is his intention.”

After days of encampment outside government buildings, indigenous groups began their annual march last friday. Protestors wore body paint and feathered headdresses, while beating beating drums and holding bows and arrows (Reuters).

The Guardian writes that last week Bolsonaro’s justice minister Sérgio Moro, requested the presence of Brazil’s national guard at the event, foreshadowing possible clashes with protestors. While Moro said that the guard would be working to “secure the public order and the safety of people and patrimony,” the guard said in a statement to Al Jazeera that it would use force “if necessary” to protect the “safety of the patrimony of the Union and its servers.”

In response to growing concern, the APIB released a statement saying that “our camp has been happening peacefully for the past 15 years to give visibility to our daily struggles. [...] We are not violent, violence is attacking our sacred right to free protesting with armed forces.”

In a statement to Reuters, David Karai Popygua, a native person from the state of Sao Paulo, summed up what is at stake for protestors. “Our families are in danger, our children are under threat, our people are being attacked,” he said. “In the name of what they call economic progress they want to kill our people.”

EMMA BRUCE is an undergraduate student studying English and marketing at Emerson College in Boston. While not writing she explores the nearest museums, reads poetry, and takes classes at her local dance studio. She is passionate about sustainable travel and can't wait to see where life will take her.

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