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News > Brazil

Brazil Celebrates 'Indigenous People's Day' in Bolsonaro Era

  • An indigenous Macuxi child at the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation, Roraima state, Brazil, Feb. 10, 2019.

    An indigenous Macuxi child at the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation, Roraima state, Brazil, Feb. 10, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 20 April 2019

Despite continual attacks from far-right President Bolsonaro Indigenous in Brazil continue to demand their human and land rights.

Brazil's Indigenous say the media "cannot forget" President Jair Bolsonaro's policy measures meant to attack native peoples throughout the country.

Bolsonaro Meets Indigenous to Defend Mining in Amazon

"On April 19, Indigenous People's Day is celebrated within the context of Jair Bolsonaro's far-right government that has criminalized leaders, scrapped the National Indian Foundation and structured an anti-Indigenous policy," Brasil de Fato newspaper. The Brazilian media outlet said that Indigenous peoples are still struggling for access to land, basic civil rights and survival of their culture.

April 19 was chosen as Brazil's Indigenous People's Day to highlight the struggles of native groups and honor the First Inter-American Indian Congress, which took place in 1940 in Patzcuaro, Mexico. Indigenous representative from across the Americas gathered at this first congress.

Despite certain policy progress and some rights advancements within Brazil, Indigenous people there still live in alarmingly precarious and impoverished situations.

"Treated as inferior, the Indigenous population has been a target of threats, deaths and terror," local media A Verdade says, adding that in the State of Bahia, which has the third largest Indigenous population in the country, only "53 Indigenous leaders are currently assisted by a protection program."

During his first four months in the presidency, Bolsonaro has been fighting hard to put Indigenous and their lands at even greater risk. 

He named Tereza Cristina as his Agriculture Minister, a former politician who led the agribusiness legislative bench and is known as the "muse of poison" for promoting the use of agro-toxins in the sprawling farms that border and intersect with Indigenous lands.

The Brazilian president also established a decree that makes it easier for citizens to buy weapons. This decision has increased violence in rural areas and given far-right groups access to arms to use against landless workers and Indigenous peoples who have been trying to gain land rights for decades, even centuries.

"The open-carry-weapons policy means a license to kill which has aggravated even more conflicts between big landowners and traditional peoples," said Brasil do Fato.

"The first celebration of the Indigenous Peoples' Day at the Bolsonaro's government!"

The right-wing administration also announced that some previously demarcated Indigenous territories, such as Raposa Serra do Sol with a population of about 20,000 natives peoples, should be more "productive." These sort of announcements are part of a strategy aimed at promoting the exploitation of mineral reserves and facilitating agribusiness in the protected Amazon region.

"Bolsonaro wants to deliver lands to agribusiness activities, mining exploration and real estate speculation. People are afraid for their own lives, but we are not going to give up," said Sonia Guajajara, the coordinator of Brazil's Indigenous People Articulation (APIB).

In the South American country, the main purpose of the "Dia do Indio", or Indigenous Day, is to raise awareness about their economic, social, political, environmental and cultural rights that they are still denied. The celebration was made official in 1943 by Getulio Vargas​​​​​​, a  president who sought to transform Brazil from a plantation-based economy into an industrial country. 

This early modernizing intent tried but failed to undermine conservative landowners.

"How the current president sees Brazil's Indigenous issue was already clear when he was a legislator. In 1998, Bolsonaro said that the U.S. cavalry was 'really competent' because it eliminated its Indians" during previous centuries, the Sao Paulo Bank Workers' Union pointed out Friday.

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