Brazil’s Indigenous Leaders Convene To Shore Up Eroding Rights
Brazil’s constitution guarantees indigenous control over indigenous lands, but critics of President Michel Temer say his administration is neglecting those provisions and intentionally sabotaging institutions charged with protecting indigenous rights. Next week, a massive meeting of indigenous peoples will convene to change that.
21 April 2017 | Few governmental institutions anywhere are as storied as FUNAI, Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índiothe in Portuguese).
It was founded in 1910 as the Indian Protection Service (Serviço de Proteção ao Índio) by naturalist and explorer Candido Rondon – a man some have called the Teddy Roosevelt of Brazil because of his later drive to develop national parks (and who was, in fact, Roosevelt’s guide in his 1912 journey into the Amazon). Rondon had witnessed firsthand the atrocities against the country’s indigenous population, and he founded the agency under the motto “Die if you must, but never kill,” to both “civilize” isolated indigenous peoples and protect them from outsiders. At times enlightened and at other times corrupt, FUNAI is the only government agency explicitly charged with demarcating indigenous territories and enforcing indigenous rights,but its ability to do so has been dramatically curtailed under President Michel Temer and his agribusiness allies in the National Congress.
Legislative initiatives like PEC 215/00 seek to reduce existing rights, while the judicial system has increased delays in trials and critics say the Temer administration is intentionally hobbling FUNAI with unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles.
Against this backdrop, more than 1,500 indigenous leaders from across the Brazilian Amazon will convene next week in the Capital, Brasilia, for the five-day annual “Free Land Camp” (Acampamento Terra Livre, ATL).
It’s an annual meeting that began in 2004 and runs this year from April 24 to 28 under the motto “Unify the struggles in defense of the indigenous of Brazil. For the guarantee of the original rights of our people”.
Most activities are concentrated on Tuesday through Thursday, and will include marches, public acts, hearings with authorities of all three branches of government, debates, lectures, cultural activities and discussion groups. Organizers are encouraging input, and are urging outsiders to contact them at [email protected] or via their website.
The ATL 2017 is run by the Articulation of the Indigenous People of Brazil (APIB) with is an organization spawned at ATL 2005 meeting to promote indigenous rights. Its members include several other indigenous organizations, including the Articulation of Indigenous People of the Northwest, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo (APOINME), Terena Council, Articulation of Indigenous People of the Southeast (ARPINSUDESTE), Articulation of Southern Indigenous People (ARPINSUL), Great Assembly of the Guarani People (ATY GUASU) and the Coordination of indigenous Organization of the Brazilian Amazon (COIAB).
The event is also being supported by the National Indigenous Mobilization and Unicult – University of Cultures – as well as environmental NGO IPAM, which is transporting indigenous leaders from remote corners of the Amazon and helping to develop technical material for workshops,
“We’re producing and providing technical materials designed to help attendees understand the importance of indigenous lands, mainly in the Amazonia, for maintaining carbon stocks, slowing deforestation, and protecting biodiversity,” said Fernanda Bortolotto, IPAM’s Indigenous Groups Coordinator.
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