Arquivo da tag: Territórios indígenas

Indigenous best Amazon stewards, but only when property rights assured: Study (Mongabay)

by Sue Branford on 17 August 2020

  • New research provides statistical evidence confirming the claim by Indigenous peoples that that they are the more effective Amazon forest guardians in Brazil — but only if and when full property rights over their territories are recognized, and fully protected, by civil authorities in a process called homologation.
  • Researchers looked at 245 Indigenous territories, homologated between 1982 and 2016. They concluded that Indigenous people were only able to curb deforestation effectively within their ancestral territories after homologation had been completed, endowing full property rights.
  • However, since the study was completed, the Temer and Bolsonaro governments have backpedaled on Indigenous land rights, failing to protect homologated reserves. Also, the homologation process has come to a standstill, failing its legal responsibility to recognize collective ownership pledged by Brazil’s Constitution.
  • In another study, researchers suggest that a key to saving the Amazon involves reframing our view of it, giving up the old view of it as an untrammeled Eden assaulted by modern exploitation, and instead seeing it as a forest long influenced by humanity; now we need only restore balance to achieve sustainability.
An Indigenous woman weaving anklets on her son. A clash of cultures in the Amazon threatens Indigenous lands and the rainforest. Image by Antônio Carlos Moura, s/d.

“The xapiri [shamanic spirits] have defended the forest since it first came into being. Our ancestors have never devastated it because they kept the spirits by their side,” declares Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, who belongs to the 27,000-strong Yanomami people living in the very north of Brazil.

He is expressing a commonly held Indigenous belief that they — the original peoples on the land, unlike the “white” Amazon invaders — are the ones most profoundly committed to forest protection. The Yanomami shaman reveals the reason: “We know well that without trees nothing will grow on the hardened and blazing ground.”

Now Brazil’s Indigenous people have gained scientific backing for their strongly held belief from two American academics.

In a study published this month in the PNAS journal, entitled Collective property rights reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, two political scientists, Kathryn Baragwanath, from the University of California San Diego, and Ella Bayi, at the Department of Political Science, Columbia University, provide statistical proof of the Indigenous claim that they are the more effective forest guardians.

In their study, the researchers use comprehensive statistical data to show that Indigenous populations can effectively curb deforestation — but only if and when their full property rights over their territories are recognized by civil authorities in a process called homologação in Portuguese, or homologation in English.

A Tapirapé man and child. Image courtesy of ISA.

Full property rights key to curbing deforestation

The scientists reached their conclusions by examining data on 245 Indigenous reserves homologated between 1982 and 2016. By examining the step-by-step legal establishment of Indigenous reserves, they were able to precisely date the moment of homologation for each territory, and to assess the effectiveness of Indigenous action against deforestation before and after full property rights were recognized.

Brazilian law requires the completion of a complex four-stage process before full recognition. After examining the data, Baragwanath and Bayi concluded that Indigenous people were only able to curb deforestation within their ancestral territories effectively after the last phase ­— homologation — had been completed.

Most deforestation of Indigenous territories occurs at the borders, as land-grabbers, loggers and farmers invade. But the new study shows that, once full property rights are recognized, Indigenous people were historically able to reduce deforestation at those borders from around 3% to 1% — a reduction of 66% which the authors find to be “a very strong finding.”

However, they emphasize that this plunge in deforestation rate only comes after homologation is complete. Baragwanath told Mongabay: The positive “effect on deforestation is very small before homologation and zero for non-homologated territories.” The authors concluded: “We believe the final stage [is] the one that makes the difference, since it is when actual property rights are granted, no more contestation can happen, and enforcement is undertaken by the government agencies.”

Homologation is crucially important, say the researchers, because with it the Indigenous group gains the backing of law and of the Brazilian state. They note: “Without homologation, Indigenous territories do not have the legal rights needed to protect their territories, their territorial resources are not considered their own, and the government is not constitutionally responsible for protecting them from encroachment, invasion, and external use of their resources.”

They continue: “Once homologated, a territory becomes the permanent possession of its Indigenous peoples, no third party can contest its existence, and extractive activities carried out by external actors can only occur after consulting the [Indigenous] communities and the National Congress.”

The scientists offer proof of effective state action and protections after homologation: “For example, FUNAI partnered with IBAMA and the military police of Mato Grosso in May 2019 to combat illegal deforestation on the homologated territory of Urubu Branco. In this operation, 12 people were charged with federal theft of wood and fined R $90,000 [US $23,000], and multiple trucks and tractors were seized; the wood seized was then donated to the municipality.”

A Tapirapé woman at work. Image courtesy of ISA.

Temer and Bolsonaro tip the tables

However, under the Jair Bolsonaro government, which came to power in Brazil after the authors collected their data, the situation is changing.

Before Bolsonaro, the number of homologations varied greatly from year to year, apparently in random fashion. A highpoint was reached in 1991, when over 70 territories were homologated, well over twice the number in any other year. This may have been because Brazil was about to host the 1992 Earth Summit and the Collor de Mello government was keen to boost Brazil’s environmental credentials. The surge may have also occurred as a result of momentum gained from Brazil’s adoption of its progressive 1988 constitution, with its enshrined Indigenous rights.

Despite wild oscillations in the annual number of homologations, until recently progress happened under each administration. “Every President signed over [Indigenous] property rights during their tenure, regardless of party or ideology,” the study states.

But since Michel Temer became president at the end of August 2016, the process has come to a standstill, with no new homologations. Baragwanath and Bayi suggest that, by refusing to recognize the full property rights of more Indigenous peoples, the Temer and Bolsonaro administrations “could be responsible for an extra 1.5 million hectares [5,790 square miles] of deforestation per year.” That would help explain soaring deforestation rates detected by INPE, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research in recent years.

Clearly, for homologation to be effective, the state must assume its legal responsibilities, says Survival International’s Fiona Watson, who notes that this is certainly not happening under Bolsonaro: “Recognizing Indigenous peoples’ collective landownership rights is a fundamental legal requirement and ethical imperative, but it is not enough on its own. Land rights need to be vigorously enforced, which requires political will and action, proper funding, and stamping out corruption. Far from applying the law, President Bolsonaro and his government have taken a sledgehammer to Indigenous peoples’ hard-won constitutional rights, watered down environmental safeguards, and are brutally dismantling the agencies charged with protecting tribal peoples and the environment.”

Watson continues: “Brazil’s tribes — some only numbering a few hundred living in remote areas — are pitted against armed criminal gangs, whipped up by Bolsonaro’s hate speech. As if this wasn’t enough, COVID-19 is killing the best guardians of the forest, especially the older generations with expertise in forest management. Lethal diseases like malaria are on the rise in Indigenous communities and Amazon fires are spreading.”

In fact, Bolsonaro uses the low number of Indigenous people inhabiting reserves today — low populations often the outcome of past horrific violence and even genocide — as an excuse for depriving them of their lands. In 2015 he declared: “The Indians do not speak our language, they do not have money, they do not have culture. They are native peoples. How did they manage to get 13% of the national territory?” And in 2017 he said: “Not a centimeter will be demarcated… as an Indigenous reserve.”

The Indigenous territory of Urubu Branco, cited by Baragwanath and Bayi as a stellar example of effective state action, is a case in point. Under the Bolsonaro government it has been invaded time and again. Although the authorities have belatedly taken action, the Apyãwa (Tapirapé) Indigenous group living there says that invaders are now using the chaos caused by the pandemic to carry out more incursions. https://www.youtube.com/embed/VEqoNo3O8Jg

Land rights: a path to conserving Amazonia

Even so, say the experts, it still seems likely that, if homologation was implemented properly now or in the future, with effective state support, it would lead to reduced deforestation. Indeed, Baragwanath and Bayi suggest that this may be one of the few ways of saving the Amazon forest.

“Providing full property rights and the institutional environment for enforcing these rights is an important and cost-effective way for countries to protect their forests and attain their climate goals,” says the study. “Public policy, international mobilization, and nongovernmental organizations should now focus their efforts on pressuring the Brazilian government to register Indigenous territories still awaiting their full property rights.”

But, in the current state of accelerating deforestation, unhampered by state regulation or enforcement, other approaches may be required. One way forward is suggested in a document optimistically entitled: “Reframing the Wilderness Concept can Bolster Collaborative Conservation.”

In the paper, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares from the Helsinki Institute of Sustainable Science, and others suggest that it is time for a new concept of “wilderness.”

For decades, many conservationists argued that the Amazon’s wealth of biodiversity stems from it being a “pristine” biome, “devoid of the destructive impacts of human activity.” But increasingly studies have shown that Indigenous people greatly contributed to the exuberance of the forest by domesticating plants as much as 10,000 years ago. Thus, the forest and humanity likely evolved together.

In keeping with this productive partnership, conservationists and Indigenous peoples need to work in harmony with forest ecology, say the authors. This organic partnership is more urgently needed than ever, they say, because the entire Amazon basin is facing an onslaught, “a new wave of frontier expansion” by logging, industrial mining, and agribusiness.

Fernández-Llamazares told Mongabay: “Extractivist interests and infrastructure development across much of the Amazon are not only driving substantial degradation of wilderness areas and their unique biodiversity, but also forcing the region’s Indigenous peoples on the frontlines of ever more pervasive social-ecological conflict.…  From 2014 to 2019, at least 475 environmental and land defenders have been killed in Amazonian countries, including numerous members of Indigenous communities.”

Fernández-Llamazares believes that new patterns of collaboration are emerging.

“A good example of the alliance between Indigenous Peoples and wilderness defenders can be found in the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS, being its Spanish acronym), in the Bolivian Amazon,” he says. “TIPNIS is the ancestral homeland of four lowland Indigenous groups and one of Bolivia’s most iconic protected areas, largely considered as one of the last wildlands in the country. In 2011, conservationists and Indigenous communities joined forces to oppose the construction of a road that would cut across the heart of the area.” A victory they won at the time, though TIPNIS today remains under contention today.

Eduardo S. Brondizio, another study contributor, points out alternatives to the industrial agribusiness and mining model: numerous management systems established by small-scale farmers, for example, that are helping conserve entire ecosystems.

“The açaí fruit economy, for instance, is arguably the region’s largest [Amazon] economy today, even compared to soy and cattle, and yet it occupies a fraction of the [land] area occupied by soy and cattle, with far higher economic return and employment than deforestation-based crops, while maintaining forest cover and multiple ecological benefits.” he said.

And, he adds, it is a completely self-driven initiative. “The entire açaí fruit economy emerged from the hands and knowledge of local riverine producers who [have] responded to market demand since the 1980s by intensifying their production using local agroforestry knowledge.” It is important, he stresses, that conservationists recognize the value of these sustainable economic activities in protecting the forest.

The new alliance taking shape between conservationists and Indigenous peoples is comparable with the new forms of collaboration that have arisen among traditional people in the Brazilian Amazon. Although Indigenous populations and riverine communities of subsistence farmers and Brazil nut collectors have long regarded each other as enemies — fighting to control the same territory — they are increasingly working together to confront land-grabbers, loggers and agribusiness.

Still, there is no doubt time is running out. Brazil’s huge swaths of agricultural land are already contributing to, and suffering from, deepening drought, because the “flying rivers” that bring down rainfall from the Amazon are beginning to collapse. Scientists are warning that the forest is moving toward a precipitation tipping point, when drought, deforestation and fire will change large areas of rainforest into arid degraded savanna.

This may already be happening. The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), a non-profit, research organisation, warned recently that the burning season, now just beginning in the Amazon, could devastate an even larger area than last year, when video footage of uncontrolled fires ablaze in the Amazon was viewed around the world. IPAM estimates that a huge area, covering 4,509 square kilometers (1,741 square miles), has been felled and is waiting to go up in flames this year — data some experts dispute. But as of last week, more than 260 major fires were already alight in the Amazon.

Years ago Davi Kopenawa Yanomami warned: “They [the white people] continue to maltreat the earth everywhere they go.… It never occurs to them that if they mistreat it too much it will finally turn to chaos.… The xapiri [the shamanic spirits] try hard to defend the white people the same way as they defend us.… But if Omoari, the dry season being, settles on their land for good, they will only have trickles of dirty water to drink and they will die of thirst. This could truly happen to them.”

Citations:

Kathryn Baragwanath and Ella Bayi, (10 August 2020), Collective property rights reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Julien Terraube, Michael C. Gavin, Aili Pyhälä, Sacha M.O. Siani, Mar Cabeza, and Eduardo S. Brondizio, (29 July 2020) Reframing the Wilderness Concept can Bolster Collaborative Conservation, Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Banner image: Young Tapirajé women. Image by Agência Brasil.

Sacred Land of Amazonian Munduruku To Be Flooded By Dam (CIP Americas Program)

By   |  24 / August / 2015

Munduruku-2The Munduruku are one of the largest ethnic groups in Brazil with a population of over thirteen thousand. For the last three centuries they have lived in the heart of the Amazon along 850 kilometers the Tapajós river in the eastern region of the state of Pará. This area is also home to the largest gold deposits in the world. The Tapajós is the last of the great Amazonian rivers without a dam but now the Brazilian government has approved plans for the construction of seven large hydroelectric plants on its river basin. These will have serious implications for at least one hundred indigenous settlements.

The main proposed hydroelectric plant, known as the Tapajós Complex, is in Sāo Luis de Tapajós. Constructio is scheduled to begin in 2017, to come online by 2020. It will flood out an area of 722,25 square kilometers, and will be the third largest dam in the country.

Most of the settlements along the river will be adversely affected by the dam, but it is undoubtedly the Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory that will suffer the most. They will have to abandon their homes as the projected flooding will cover most of the area they consider their territory.

“That is exactly what they want. They want us as far away as possible from here. We are at war to defend our land. They will have to carry our dead bodies out of here,” said Rozeninho Saw in an interview with the Americas Progam.

“The Munduruku have always been known as great warriors,” he noted, recalling the tribe’s history. “In fact, the word ‘Munduruku’ refers to “red ants” because, like them, our ancestors left for battle well organized and attacked en masse.”

The federal government’s plan to expel the Munduruku from their ancestral lands goes against the constitution because the displacement of indigenous people is prohibited under Article 231. Article 231 recognizes the right of indigenous people to live permanently on their traditional territories. In an attempt to make the project legal, the Brazilian government has argued that the territory of the Sawre Muybu has never been officially, and therefore legally, recognized.

The government’s case, and along with it the plans for the hydroelectric project, has come under increased pressure due the disclosure of a seven-year study undertaken by the National Foundation of the Indian (FUNAI) that clearly outlines the historical inhabitancy by the Munduruku people of the territory in question as per the established guidelines of defining ancestral lands and sacred sites. The report, completed in 2013, proves the Munduruku’s claim to the land and establishes boundaries of the Sawre Muybu Indigenous Territory. It remained unpublished by the presidency of FUNAI until it was recently leaked to some media outlets.

The report concludes, “Based on an exhaustive investigation that addressed anthropological, ethnohistoric, cartographic, environmental, and topographic concerns, the working group fully recognizes the traditional character of the Munduruku people in the specified territory.”

Tapajós: Predominantly Indigenous 

While non-indigenous communities are now increasingly populating the Tapajós area, the FUNAI report states that many parts of it still remain exclusively inhabited by indigenous people. Non-indigenous colonization can be traced back to the 19th century when the area absorbed many migrant workers catering to the rubber boom. This influx declined and ultimately stopped with the fall in the price of latex on the world market.

“Those migrants who remained and settled in the area, adapted to the indigenous customs and were assimilated into the community, not the other way round,” the study states. This lack of non-indigenous inhabitants is juxtaposed with the overwhelming presence of the Munduruku, and some other ethnicities predating the European conquest of the Amazon but little is known of their origins or history.”

Today, the region is still bereft of a significant non-indigenous presence. Most of the non-indigenous population is involved in illegal mining and overfishing.

FUNAI, the government body entrusted with establishing and implementing the nation’s indigenous policies, stipulates that there are a total of eleven Munduruku indigenous territories in the state of Pará. Ten of these are located along the margins of the Tapajós, however only two are officially recognized and geographically demarcated. The remaining territories are still undergoing this process of demarcation.

Tierra Madre 

Munduruku-1The Sawré Muybu Indigenous Territory, as defined in report, encompasses an area of 178,173 hectares along 232 kilometers of the river through the municipalities of Itaituba and Trairão in the state of Pará. Where the Tapajós meets the Amazon River, four different tribes have settled (the Praia do Mangue, Praia do Índio, Sawre Apompu and Sawre Juybu). But it is the three main settlements (the Sawre Muybu, Ms Dace Watpu and Karo Muybu), which play a central and vital role for the whole Munduruku ethnic population. “We are a sort of mother ship for all the other settlements,” explains Rozeninho, “because our territory is the largest. The other tribes come here to get food and materials and to find someone to marry.”

The FUNAI report goes on to state that the central area of the Munduruku territory is host to many springs which feed into the Tapajós and which are “the source of habitats ecologically unique to the area in terms of flora and fauna (especially for hunting) and consequently offer the population of the Sawre Muyru an appropriate and vital source for nourishment and provide them with the raw materials needed for their tools and shelter.”

The Sawre Muybu IT also contains many of the Munduruku sacred sites, like the Igarapé Sāo Gonçalo and the Igarapé do Fecho, both of which will completely disappear underwater when, and if, the area is flooded by the dam. The small canal known as the Sāo Gonçalo, narrow but navigable, flows into the Tapajós at the exact location of the Ancient Village of the Munduruku. “This small canal is fundamental to one of the main rituals, known as the Tinguijada, of the Munduruku.   It is also the source of many palm, copal, and patauá trees which attract many species the Munduruku hunt,” the FUNAI report specifies. Likewise, the Igarapé do Fecho, another small canal that flows into the Tapajós, is fundamental to the mythology of the Munduruku as they “believe it is the birthplace of the Tapajós,” adds Rozeninho.

According to a petition filed by the Federal Prosecutor asking the Supreme Court to suspend the license for the project on the grounds of it being a violation of the rights of the Munduruku, it lists the violation of sacred sites relevant to the beliefs, customs, traditions, symbology and spirituality of these indigenous populations, all of which are protected by the constitution, as its main reason.

The territory of Sawre Muybu coincides geographically with the Flora Itaituba II special conservation area. This alone should be grounds to impede it from being flooded. But in January 2012, President Dilma Rousseff ordered the scaling down in size of seven areas of special conservation, one of them being Flora Itaituba II .   As a result, the unprotected area now falls squarely within the boundaries of the Munduruku territories and is now destined to become part of the reservoir formed by the dam. These perimeters were officially reduced and redefined by the government under the Medida Provisional (MP) n. 558/2012 which was formally passed into law n.12.678/2012.

From Tapajós To The World 

The immense Tapajós River is comprised of a series of islands, lakes and lagoons that are rich in fish stock. It is also a major conduit for the transportation of Amazonian produce such as nuts, bacaba, burtiti and copal. Just at the point where the Igarapé do Fecho disgorges into the Tapajós, the main river narrows considerably due to protuberances on both sides of the bank. The bedrock is sheer granite, and large boulders and strong currents make the navigation of large boats almost impossible.

The seven planned hydroelectric projects will raise the water level, converting the river into a succession of reservoirs. This alteration will most certainly facilitate the navigation of the river for larger vessels. Given its strategic position connecting one of Brazil’s largest agricultural production (of soya and maize) with the newly established centers of mineral exploration (of gold and aluminum), traffic along the river will undoubtedly ramp up on a grand scale from the north of Pará, onto the Amazon River, and out towards the Atlantic Ocean.

These hydroelectric plants are thus seen to be a key component to the exploitation of the minerals in the region. “They are fundamental to the functioning of the industry because they will provide them with the electricity necessary to run the mines. “In reality this completely negates the rights of the people who inhabit the region,” Nayana Fernandez, director of the documentary “Indigenas Munduruku: Weaving Resistance” and activist for the indigenous of the region, told CIP Americas.

China: Eletrobrás Furnas, closely tied to the Federal Ministry of Mines and Energy, recently signed a memorandum of cooperation with China Three Gorges International Corporation (CTG) to build the Sāo Luis do Tapajós Hydroelectric Dam. This agreement consolidates the company’s strategy of positioning itself among the largest energy producers in the world.

Minerals For the World 

Munduruku-4The proliferation of gold prospecting and mining is another factor adding to the growing environmental crisis in the Tapajós region. Known to have the largest untapped deposits in the world, gold nevertheless has been mined in the region since the 1950s, the FUNAI report states. “In the 1980s the municipality of Itaituba was the largest gold producer in the world, extracting an estimated ten tons per month,” according to the Office of Mining and the Environment of Itaituba and the Tapajós Association of Gold Producers.

Data provided by the Department of Mineral Production (DNPM) and analyzed in the FUNAI report shows that an official permit for gold mining issued was issued in 2013 to the Miners Association of the Amazon, which guarantees the legitimacy of the licenses on file at the DMPM. No less than 94 of these licenses infringe on the territorial rights of the Sawre Muybu IT.

In 2012 the Institute of Socioeconomic Studies published a report stating that in the decade between 2000 and 2010 exports from the region officially designated the “Legal” Amazon increased much more the exports from other Brazilian regions, namely by 518% versus 366%, or from 5,000 million dollars in 2000 to 26,000 million in 2010.

The state of Pará was itself responsible for 48% (or 12,800 million dollars) of the total value of exports in 2010. The schedule of exports details the predominance of minerals, followed by farming produce, and meat in particular. Three companies – Vale, Alunorte, and Albrás (aluminum and iron ore) – accounted for 78% of the export market value, or 10,000 million dollars, in the state of Pará.

Aluminum mining consumes almost 6% of the energy generated in the Brazil. According to Celio Bermann, “aluminum is sold at a relatively insignificant price on the international market and generates negligible employment figures. The work force employed by the aluminum production industry is 70 times smaller than the work forced generated for the food and drinks industry, and 40 times smaller than that employed by the textile industry.”

In Brazil, transnational companies that control 70% of its distribution and 30% of its production primarily provide for energy. 665 companies consume 30% of the total energy produced by the hydroelectric plants.

Records show that over 2000 hydroelectric dams have been constructed up until the year 2012. Over a million people have been expelled from their homes and land as a result; 70% of them without being indemnified in any way. China, Spain and the United States were the biggest investors in Brazil in 2014. According to the CEPAL, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, Chinese foreign direct investment topped 1,161 million dollars in 2015, mainly due to increased investment in oil, electrical distribution and manufacturing.

Impact

Although work has not yet begun in Tapajós, the Munduruku are already subject to the impact of the project on their lives on a daily basis. “The simple act of not publishing the report specifying the demarcation lines of the Sawre Muybu territory is an important impact of the project on the community. As is the process of self-demarcation of their sacred lands, undertaken by the indigenous communities themselves. They have been forced to go down this route in order to defend the concept of what it means to be Munduruku in light of the fight for the right to remain in the land of their ancestors,” says Nayana Fernandez. She goes on to say that the Munduruku’s prime focus and main weapons in the fight are the experiences of other traditional communities who have already been subject to the myriad effects of the hydroelectric plants in their midst as well as the dire warnings of environmental disaster issued by many studies and reports.

Munduruku-8Hydroelectric dams in other rivers – the River Teles Pires, or the Belo Monte Dam in the Xingu River, for example – are prime examples of the most extreme of consequences.

“In order to build the Teles Pires Dam, construction companies dynamited the waterfalls known as “Sete Quedas (Seven Falls)” which were a sacred site for the Kayabi, the Apiaka, and the Munduruku. They were allowed to commit this ethno historic crime without having had any prior consultation with the local communities, as is required by the Convention No. 169 of the International Labor Organization to which Brazil is signatory,” she asserts.

The landscape will be altered dramatically, as will the behavior and flow of the river and its tributaries. This will, in turn, create social and economic problems, not least through the appropriation and segregation of large spaces to specifically and exclusively designate them for the transport of materials, for the warehousing of produce and for waste management.

FUNAI’s impact report details alterations in the level and direction of the river; the denuding of vegetation and habitats for fauna, specifically in forested areas and in freshwater marshes and wetlands; the severe interference in the migration routes of fish, and the increased endangerment of animal species, among them: manatees, freshwater dolphins, pink porpoises, caimans, Amazonian turtles, amarillos, otters, and lizards unique to the environment. The flooding will furthermore result in the disappearance of the islands, lagoons, and freshwater swamp forests that surround the Tapajós River, and consequently in the disappearance of their unique habitats too.

No Funding For The Recognition of Ancestral Lands? 

In May 2014 the public prosecutor lodged a case in the Federal Court of Itaituba against FUNAI for delaying the demarcation process of the Sawre Muybu Indigenous Territory. The Munduruku met with Maria Augusta Assirati, ex- president of FUNAI, in Brasilia in September of 2014. It was at that meeting that she admitted that the delay in the publication of the report was due to interference from various branches of the government with interests in the hydroelectric project.

The public prosecutor proceeded with his case in the courts insisting on legal territorial demarcation for the Sawre Muybu well into 2015. Eventually the court ruled that FUNAI was legally obliged to continue with the process of certifying and demarking the territory. It was further stipulated that until FUNAI complied, the organization would have to pay a daily fine of 900 US dollars to the Munduruku. FUNAI has appealed the decision but as yet there has been no final ruling.

According to the arguments presented in court by the public prosecutor, FUNAI maintained that priority in the national demarcation process of indigenous lands had been allocated to the indigenous territories of the south and southeast and that there were no available public funds for the same process in the Amazonian region. The prosecutor rejected that argument saying that public funds were utilized for the preparation of the report, therefore they were available.

“It would be a waste of public money if the report were archived after the great investment incurred in its preparation and, above else, the unquestionable violation of the constitutional rights of indigenous people that would result if that were to occur,” said the prosecutor Camoēs Buenaventura.

Guarding Ancestral Territory 

Munduruku-5Munduruku art has as its central motif the figure of the Jabuti, an Amazonian turtle. Legends say the animal’s shrewdness and community spirit helped it defeat its most feared enemies.

“We have to use our own wisdom to quench the attempted extermination of our people. The enemies of the indigenous communities behave like the Great Anaconda who clasps her victims so hard their bones crush before suffocating them. But Jabuti gave us a lesson in how to defeat them,” say the Munduruku in a letter signed collectively.

The Munduruku’s last resort has been to self-demarcate their ancestral lands. The first step taken to recuperate and reclaim the territory as their own was in October of 2014, using as their geographical point of reference the same territorial limits as those outlined in the FUNAI report. Precisely because the federal government did not officially recognize this report, the Munduruku felt compelled to uphold the position articulated in it.

“The self-demarcation of the Sawre Muybu Indigenous Territory is a resistance movement against those developments proposed by the government and foreign multinational companies in the Amazon. These include hydroelectric dams, the exploitation of the forest, and the expansion of the agroindustry.   It also represents the organization of the indigenous people to collectively guard against and protect the rights of the indigenous communities in light of the illegal occupation of their lands and the continued abuse of their natural resources,” their letter continues.

The Munduruku have recently issued a second salvo in the quest to recuperate and reclaim their territory. In July 2015 they wrote, “We have unquestionable evidence of the manmade destruction of our fruit producing trees. We take care of these trees because not only do we eat the fruit, they are the future we will leave to our grandchildren. We can see that there are not many left, almost none on our lands. The fruit provides nourishing juice for our children and all we can see is its decimation. We have always said that the pariwat (the white man) is not aware of any of this. This is why we are engaged in this process of self-demarcation. We do not think as the pariwat who is destroying our trees thinks.”

According to Rozeninho, the Munduruku are convening a general meeting for September 2015 to evaluate the progress of the campaign so far and to discuss what future steps they will take.

Photos by Santiago Navarro F. 

Translation by Isabella Weibrecht