05 November 2020
05 Nov 2020

About the situation of the indigenous people in Brazil

© photo credit: Denisa Starbova

Recently much has been heard about the indigenous issue in Brazil. Fr. Belmiro Rauber tells us a little about this current scenario.

by  Belmiro Rauber, scj

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It has been 520 years since the Portuguese discovered Brazil. There has been five hundred and twenty years of resistance from the indigenous peoples. What was it like in the beginning? Let us read the letter of Mem de Sá, Governor General of Brazil in 1560, recounting his deeds as exploits to the King of Portugal:

“The night I entered Ilhéus I went on foot to a village that was seven leagues from the village… And I destroyed it, plus all those who wanted to resist. When I came, I burned and destroyed all the villages that were left behind. Then other gentiles gathered and came following me along the beach. I set a trap for them and forced them to throw themselves into the sea. I sent other indians to gather the bodies and put them along the beach, in order, so that they took the bodies (lined up) close to a ruler…” (Prezia & Hoornaert, Brasil indígena: 500 anos de resistência).

Six kilometers of beach covered by the bodies of the murdered indians in a single night. Portrait of the violence that marked those 500 years and that continues to be practiced today in different ways: through invasions of indigenous territories, persecutions and murders of their leaders, the construction of large projects (hydroelectric plants, highways, waterways etc.) in their areas, the theft of biodiversity resources and indigenous knowledge, ecotourism that disrespects their living spaces. All these forms of violence are ramifications of the same policy of a mistaken development model (cf. Manual da Campanha da Fraternidade, ano 2002, p. 62).

On April 26, 2000, during the celebration of Mass in Coroa Vermelha, which marked the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Portugueses, the young Matalauê Pataxó made a moving statement:

“Five hundred years of suffering, massacre, exclusion, prejudice, exploitation, extermination of our relatives, concealment, rape of our women, devastation of our lands, of our forests, which took us with the invasion. We are in mourning. Until when? Aren’t you ashamed of this memory that is in our soul and in our heart? We will tell this story for justice, land and freedom” (CIMI e APOINME, Conferência dos Povos e Organizações Indígenas do Brasil, p. 15).

In 1972, the Conselho Indigenista Missionário – CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council) was created, an entity attached to the Conferência Nacional do Bispos do Brasil – CNBB (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil). On behalf of the Catholic Church, the CIMI was responsible for updating the missionary presence among indigenous peoples, assuming a new and broad concept of mission, as a process that aims to articulate the indigenous peoples, sensitize national society, and redefine the methods and objectives of their own missionary action and presence.

There are many evangelizing experiences among the indigenous peoples that seek to discover with joy the seeds of revelation, understand and respect what is good and purify what is at odds with the Gospel. It is the inculturated Church that seeks to enter into a dialogue of salvation with the indigenous cultures, to vibrate and feel the wonders of the Lord, even proclaimed in unknown languages (cf. Acts 1:8).

This vision of inculturation generates solidarity and commitment to the struggles of the people, their problems and the search for solutions, their joys and conquests, contributing to generate the conditions for freedom and autonomy. This is how the Indians express themselves in the conclusions of the document of the 3rd Indigenous Theology Meeting, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 1997:

“We propose that the Christian missionary, when arriving at an indigenous culture, goes through the process of insertion; that he understands and assimilates the values, the cosmovision and the religious expressions in order to discover in the cultures the manifestation of God. Because inculturation is dialogue between the Gospel and the indigenous spiritualities”. (cf. Manual da Campanha da Fraternidade, ano 2002, p. 64-65).

Current overview

The report “Violência contra Povos indígenas do Brasil, dados de 2019” (Violence against indigenous peoples of Brazil, 2019 data) reiterates the portrait of an extremely perverse and worrying reality in the early years of the government of Jair Bolsonaro in the Presidency of the Republic. The intensification of expropriations of indigenous lands, forged in the invasion, land grabbing and subdivision, is consolidating quickly and aggressively throughout the national territory, causing its inestimable destruction. The areas where forests and their rich ecosystems are most protected are those where these peoples have historically been present.

The Supreme Court

In a context in which the Federal Government’s attacks threaten the rights of the indigenous and, in the Legislative, projects and caucuses against the indigenous peoples stand out, the views and hopes of ensuring that the institutional rights of the indigenous peoples are not disfigured turn to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court will thus be able to give a definitive solution to the conflicts involving indigenous lands in the country and guarantee a respite for the communities that are currently under pressure by powerful economic sectors. The process of general repercussion that will discuss the demarcation of indigenous lands in Brazil is in progress at the Supreme Court.

Minister Edson Fachin, within the scope of the general repercussion process, of which he is the speaker, suspended all legal proceedings that could result in evictions or the annulment of demarcations of indigenous lands until the end of the pandemic. The demarcation of indigenous lands and the respect for these peoples and their cultures are problems for us all.

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