Making History: Brazil's National Indigenous Mobilization
October 8, 2013 | Christian Poirier
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Brazil's National Indigenous Mobilization featured the contributions of 1,500 representatives made up of nearly 100 indigenous ethnicities, members of quilombola communities whose African ancestors fled slavery to establish independent homelands, and organizations helping to sustain and publicize this critical gathering. The mobilization also included dozens of solidarity actions in cities across the country. Together we combined our abilities to push back against the relentless political tide eroding the human rights of Brazil's traditional peoples, which have come under unprecedented attack 25 years after they were enshrined in the Brazilian Constitution.
The threats against indigenous rights are diverse and being driven by economic and political interests that disregard the historic injustices and genocide suffered by native populations. These threats require an organized and coordinated response because they menace the very basis of these peoples' cultural survival: the preservation of their ancestral dominions.
Brazil's traditional communities occupy vast swaths of the Amazon rainforest. By and large these territories are highly conserved, like islands of green in a sea of deforestation. The contribution these communities offer is not only critical for the perseverance of the forest, but for the continuity of our civilization: they are the guardians of rainforests that stand between humanity and climate catastrophe.
Based steps away from Brazil's congressional buildings, federal ministries, and the presidential palace, the mobilization encampment proved an ideal staging point for acts of steadfast indigenous resistance. Days were punctuated with spirited protest marches that provoked an overwhelming police response, and congressional security indiscriminately pepper spraying peaceful protestors. Yet brutality and intimidation could not dampen a hunger for justice and for respect.
Targeting the heart of the agribusiness lobby in Brasilia, hundreds of protestors occupied the headquarters of the National Confederation of Agriculture (CNA), singing and dancing in celebration of a symbolic victory against the ruralistas, a sinister and powerful voting bloc behind increasing political attacks on indigenous rights. Symbolism was also at play when native marchers and religious figures assembled in front of Congress buried effigies of some of Brazil's most heinous political leaders: Senator Katia Abreu of the CNA, Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo, Attorney General Luis Inácio Adams, and Presidential Cabinet member Gleise Hoffman. Yet this historic mobilization of Brazil's indigenous peoples was anything but symbolic: it was a concrete manifestation of unwavering and unified resistance to a common threat.
After meetings with sympathetic congressional figures, indigenous leaders took away important assurances that any attempt to undermine their constitutional rights – such as the infamous proposal PEC 215, which would roll back the demarcation of new indigenous territories – would not pass under their watch. However, as asserted by Sonia Guajajara of the Articulation of Brazil's Indigenous Peoples (APIB), this is but one of a series of egregious measures meant to dispossess native peoples of their right to intact and healthy territories. While last week's mobilization was a critical step toward asserting recognition of indigenous rights, it requires consistent and vigilant reinforcement in the coming weeks and months.
The participation of Amazon Watch alongside our partner organizations in Brazil's most significant indigenous mobilization in the last 25 years was an extraordinary opportunity to deliver on our commitment to support the struggle of indigenous peoples in the Amazon. As frontline witnesses we had the opportunity to gain inspiration from thousands of warriors who gathered in peace to send a clear message: that they will never abandon their fight for justice and for the protection of their lands and lives.