“We are seen as foreigners in our country”: the indigenous people of Brazil claim their right to land”

In front of the doors of the imposing building of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) in Brasilia, you can feel the smoke and the smell of barbecue from the street vendor who offers sandwiches to the little more than 1,000 indigenous people who are camped out. It is Wednesday, August 31, and the group sees on a big screen the judgment that can determine the future of all the native peoples of Brazil. Many are seated, others dance with face and body paintings and colored ornaments. The judges of the Court have just resumed the trial on the process of the “temporary milestone”, which will define the demarcation of indigenous lands and the future of the Indians, and which continues this week in the Brazilian capital. The milestone proposes that only the towns that were on their lands in 1988 be recognized, the year the Constitution was promulgated after the military regime (1964-1985).

Today indigenous people own 12.2% of Brazil’s lands, according to the National Indian Foundation (Funai). However, several peoples fight in justice for the lands of their ancestors from where they were expelled by owners of haciendas, loggers and explorers of precious stones. Several expulsion processes occurred during the dictatorship, which left indigenous peoples vulnerable, while economic development in the jungle was prioritized. During democracy, some of its powers were restored and part of its lands were demarcated.

Almost 40 years later, they are threatened again under the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who did not demarcate any more land. In the midst of climate change, the Court’s decision is no longer about defending the almost 1 million Indians living in Brazil. Native peoples are natural agents of environmental preservation in the country that has seen deforestation advance violently with Bolsonaro.

Four kilometers from the Court building, hundreds of indigenous people of different ethnic groups from all regions of the country set up tents where they have been protesting for more than a week to claim the right to land. “We are seen as foreigners in our own country,” sums up Valdelice Veron, a Guaraní-Kaiowá from Mato Grosso do Sul. Veron is tall, has small eyes and a sad look. Still, he shows a great willingness to resist. “Today, unlike when the Constitution was promulgated, we speak Portuguese, we are not afraid. We will not leave our forests and we will not let out those who enter ”.

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The group has the support of several politicians who visited the camp during the week. Guilherme Boulos (Socialism and Freedom Party), candidate in the last municipal elections, made an appearance this Wednesday. Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (Workers’ Party) did not attend, but sent a short audio, which was reproduced by the president of his party, Gleisi Hoffmann, in which he praised the indigenous struggle.

They have against, however, the powerful agribusiness interested in advancing with soy plantations, creating livestock and opening space for roads. They are the ones who support President Bolsonaro in his crusade to reduce the space of the indigenous people. The Chamber of Deputies also reinforces the fight against indigenous people through a bill, which imposes the thesis of the temporary milestone in the legislation, which establishes, among other things, the opening of territories for the exploitation of projects and allows contact with uncontacted Indians.

Today there are 680 processes of demarcation of indigenous lands, of which 443 are of homologated territories, with their defined limits, and officially recognized. The rest are claimed by native peoples whose delimitations are in process, under a complex evaluation, which includes the anthropological investigation of their ancestral lands.

The trial can last days or weeks. Throughout Wednesday afternoon, the makeshift screen that indigenous people watched showed lawyers and activists involved in the process making their defenses in this historic debate. The temporary milestone that the landowners want may exclude many of the demarcation processes that have dragged on for years in the courts and put at risk the lands already officialized as indigenous. “Indigenous people without territory are not indigenous,” says Jaciene Brito, of the Tupinambá ethnic group, in the state of Bahia.

Lucas de Matos, of the Bororó ethnic group, remembered his ancestors to strengthen his wishes. “If we don’t have good news, we are going to sing, to call our ancestors. We are indigenous, we don’t give up easily ”. Camped for more than ten days, many said goodbye to Brasilia this Wednesday. Still, the camp will not be dismantled. This weekend indigenous women began to arrive for the women’s march, which will take place between September 7 and 11. The act generates uncertainty about possible clashes, since it begins just the day that Bolsonaro supporters are expected to take to the streets to defend the president.

Published by: MRT