Brazilian Indigenous Storm Congress Halting Vote on Territorial Rights

Date of publication: 
19 April 2013

Hundreds of indigenous protestors occupied the Brazilian Congress on Tuesday, April 16th, in an effort to stop a law that could weaken territorial rights of the communities according to advocates.

The process that was leading to a vote was suspended, giving the Congress and the indigenous people more time to discuss the situation.

According to the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (AIPB) and other advocates, the Congress was preparing to organize a commission that would put together a constitutional amendment that would take away the powers of demarcation of territory from the National Indian Foundation (NIF or FUNAI in Portuguese) and give those same powers to Congress.

The AIPB and other activists asserted that the law was pushed by big landowners who wanted to seize more indigenous territory.

On Tuesday morning, hundreds of indigenous protestors of 73 different ethnicities ran into the Congress building in the capital city of Brasilia, and according to sources, caused some legislators to flee the building. One press account noted that a few of the indigenous began to dance and sing before the startled lawmakers.

Once inside the building, the President of the Congress, Henrique Alves, agreed to a meeting with indigenous leaders in his Congressional office.

At the meeting, Chief Raoni of the Kayapo people (who have been involved in the fight against the Belo Monte project) and Sonia Guajajara of the AIPB were among the leaders to speak with Congressman Alves and his colleagues. The indigenous representatives spoke in their own languages and brought an interpreter who conveyed the messages in Portuguese.

“President, you have to speak with your congress people so that they respect the rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Raoni said. “The PEC (proposed law) is causing problems for the indigenous people. I will never accept deforestation on indigenous lands, nor mining in our reserves.”

“We are not here to ask for gold, or mining, but to ask for compliance with the federal constitution,” Guajajara asserted. “We know that you sir are in a difficult situation. With us on one side and the big landowners on the other. If you do not repeal of the commission, we are not going to leave from here – that is the home of the people!”

In response to the demands of the indigenous leaders, Alves agreed to further meetings and the appointment of indigenous representatives on the commission that was slated to consider the law.

“The Commission will be installed once the indigenous leaders select their representatives,” Alves stated. “I will request today, at this meeting, that the leaders indicate to us which members will represent them, so that we can come to an understanding…a respectful accord.”

One of the legislators, Congressman Sarney Filho, who has negotiated other settlements with indigenous communities expressed sympathy for the protestors.

“I find that the situation of the Indians is exasperating,” Sarney stated. “It is an act of understandable despair. I don’t agree with the invasion of the plenary, but I understand the despair of the Indians. They are being massacred…”

The date for the meeting of the new commission was not announced as of press time.