On Nov. 8, about 500 Brazilian Indians of the Paresi tribe from the mid-western state of Mato Grosso, arrived in Brasília, Brazil’s federal capital. They were there to join the massive protests against the victory of the far-left candidate, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, in last month’s presidential elections.
Irisnaide Silva is the female Indigenous leader of the Macuxi tribe—one of two main indigenous groups in the Amazonian state of Roraima. For once, she says, a Brazilian president has finally bothered to hear her.
The Indigenous leader has met several times with the present incumbent, Jair Bolsonaro, to discuss a bill that would authorise mining on indigenous lands. For decades she and her family picked and panned their land, scouring the hills for diamonds and gold. However, when Lula da Silva became the nation’s president, his government made it illegal to mine in her indigenous territory despite protests from her tribe.
Of course, as one may expect, many global green activists have accused these Indigenous leaders of being traitors.
“I’ve been called a white Indian,” Silva told Reuters over squawking chickens at her modest home in the indigenous community’s reserve. She doesn’t care.
Indigenous Lands Are Rich and FertileAccording to data from the National Indigenous Foundation (FUNAI) there are approximately 900,000 indigenous persons (0.5 percent of the national population), representing 305 distinct ethnic groups and 274 languages. Over 500,000 of them live in 4,774 villages spread over 505 formally recognised indigenous lands covering 13 percent of the national territory.
The amount of land classified as belonging to the Indigenous peoples is larger than the territory of any European nation, bar Russia.
These indigenous lands are regarded as the permanent possession of the Brazilian Indians. They should have total control over all the riches of their soil, rivers, and lakes.
Bolsonaro has always advocated for the basic right of Indigenous peoples to mining and utilization of natural resources in their native territories. In his assessment, the vast territory belonging to the Indigenous peoples has been underutilised by their constitutional owners due to environmental policies carried out by left-wing governments with the support of global green NGOs.
“Some people want you to remain on indigenous territories like prehistoric animals. Under the soil, you have billions or trillions of dollars,” he added.
On March 18, Bolsonaro was awarded the medal for “Indigenous Merit,” a distinction bestowed on personalities who have stood for the wellbeing of the Indigenous peoples. The award is an honour created in 1972 by the Ministry of Justice.
Bolsonaro was deemed worthy of receiving the accolade “in recognition of the relevant services of altruistic character, related to the welfare, protection, and defence of indigenous communities.”
At the end of that ceremony, representatives of various Indigenous communities insisted on participating in a historic photo with the president.
History Shows Lula Doesn’t Choose What’s Best for the Indigenous PeoplesThose NGOs strongly supported Lula’s return to the presidency, despite, according to an article in the Texas International Law Review published in the first year of his administration, “rule of law problems, political pressures on the executive as well as on the judiciary, and societal attitudes ... contributed to a hostile environment for indigenous peoples” during that period.
During the long Lula administration from 2003 to 2011, about half of all the Brazilian Indians were condemned to live under conditions of extreme poverty, completely reliant on a federal program of basic food baskets to survive.
They also faced extremely poor health care, and the government’s own medical department estimated that in those days, around 60 percent of all the Indians in Brazil suffered from chronic diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and hepatitis.
Despite that appalling record, many NGOs recently took to social media to celebrate the return of Lula’s presidency and end of Bolsonaro’s.
In other words, this newly re-elected politician has vowed to entirely reverse Bolsonaro’s policies for the development of Indigenous rights over their own native land.
And since what Lula promises basically amounts to a constitutional violation of the property rights of the Indigenous people, we must conclude that the outcome of this recent election in Brazil raises serious doubts about the future of the nation’s Indigenous peoples, particularly those living in the Amazon.