Brazil: Indigenous peoples mobilise to defend land and culture

August 29, 2021
Bill 490 is another attack by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro against Indigenous people. Photo: @ApibOficial/Twitter

A huge Indigenous protest is taking place in Brazil in response to President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-Indigenous far-right agenda. The protest, initially planned from August 22–28, has been extended until September 1, when a bill critical to Indigenous people’s future will be voted on.

The "Luta Pela Vida" (Struggle for Life) mobilisation has gathered more than 6000 Indigenous people from 176 Indigenous communities in the capital Brasilia, to protest Bill 490, which — if approved — will deny the fundamental right of Indigenous people to land.

Brazil has 567 demarcated Indigenous territories across all its states. Indigenous land demarcation began in 1988, after successful civil society pressure organised by Indigenous leaders at the constitutional assembly. The demarcation of Indigenous land protected it from loggers, miners, land invaders and big agribusiness, while at the same time preserving traditional cultures.

Bolsonaro threatened Indigenous peoples during his electoral campaign and his government, along with its traditional big agribusiness and religious allies, have taken no action to stop land invasions, killings and destruction of Indigenous territories.

Violence against Indigenous people has grown under Bolsonaro’s regime, and land invasions have risen by 135%. Bill 490 is another step in his agenda against Indigenous people.

Bill 490 is centred on the economic exploration of Indigenous lands. It proposes that Indigenous peoples can only claim rights over lands that were in their possession on October 5, 1988 — when the country’s constitution was enacted. The Bill legalises and legitimises the violence to which Indigenous peoples were subjected until the constitution took effect and essentially precludes any new demarcation of Indigenous lands.

The bill allows uncontacted communities to be contacted at the government’s will, the permanent presence of corrupt armed forces and federal police within Indigenous territories and explicitly allows for mining, energy projects such as hydro plants and the cultivation of genetically modified crops within Indigenous territories. This will effectively mean that access to Indigenous lands become susceptible to market forces.

Once-protected land could be transformed into extensive monocrop farms, destroying unique ecosystems and accelerating climate change. Conflicts between Indigenous peoples and land invaders would rise, with potentially genocidal impacts on entire cultures.

Studies demonstrate that traditional Indigenous communities are the best nature guardians. The “Struggle for Life” mobilisation aims to protect a unique knowledge and way of life in balance with nature, which has been suffocated by colonialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism over the past 500 years.

The passing of Bill 490 would be a victory for the powerful against the country’s minorities and spell the end for many Indigenous cultures.

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