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  • Brazilian Indians from various Indigenous ethnic groups take part in a protest during a national Indigenous mobilization in Brasilia, in April.

    Brazilian Indians from various Indigenous ethnic groups take part in a protest during a national Indigenous mobilization in Brasilia, in April. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 November 2015

Indigenous groups reject reforms that would shift the power to decide on their land rights to Congress, where many members are linked to agro-business.

Indigenous groups in Brazil have taken to the streets to protest against proposed reforms that would modify the constitution, changing the definition and demarcation of Indigenous territories.

Some 120 Indigenous people met in front of Congress in the capital Brasilia Wednesday to protest the new bill PEC 215, continuing their ongoing fight for land rights and recognition.

Nine Indigenous people from the Kayapo community also met with members of the Senate in order to ask them to work against the bill, which has already been approved by the Senate as well as a special legislative commission in Brazil's lower chamber of Congress.

PEC 215 proposes to change the constitution in order to shift the power to demarcate indigenous land from the executive to the legislature. The move would take power away from the Indigenous government body FUNAI, the Ministry of Justice and the president to make decisions about Indigenous land rights and shift it over to Congress – many of whom are linked to agro-business and the timber, mining and energy industries.

The Kayapo Indigenous leader Sandro Itakyry said they would try to talk to each party leader and tell them that if the bill is passed native communities may lose representation in government in the process of demarcating Indigenous territory.

“The proposal represents a genocide of Indigenous peoples, because it strips us from our right to land,” said Indigenous leader Sonia Guajajara at similar protests last week.

Indigenous communities have long been protesting the bill, including major protests last month when more than a thousand Indigenous leaders met in the capital to speak out against the reforms. President Dilma Rousseff's administration has also formally rejected the proposed constitutional changes.

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According to an executive press release last week, the proposed amendments, shifting the allocation of power to Congress, do not align with the constitutional law. Moreover, this option would make it impossible in the future to enlarge the existing native land.

Ruling Workers’ Party (PT) lawmaker Saguas Moraes said the proposal is unfair and absurd.

“It consists in a step back ... and it seeks to support the agribusiness sector, interested in neutralizing Indigenous territories,” said Moraes.

The reforms will now be subject to a vote in plenary session, and will become a law if Rousseff signs the bill.

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