6,000 Indigenous leaders gathered in the Brazilian capital of Brasília this September to fight for their lands and lives.
The “Struggle for Life” (“Luta pela vida”) Camp has brought together up to 6,000 Indigenous leaders and activists from all regions of Brazil to protest the government’s anti-Indigenous policies and rollbacks on protections for their lands and lives.
Ipê square in Brasília is currently the biggest Indigenous village in Brazil. And it’s the largest Indigenous demonstration in Brazil’s history.
What are they protesting?
The current Brazilian Government led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has an explicitly anti-Indigenous agenda, abandoning Indigenous communities as they face invasions from land grabbers, miners, and loggers.
The week of September 15th was critical because the Brazilian Supreme Court will rule on a legal case that could severely limit Indigenous land rights. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has said that this case could legitimize violence against Indigenous Peoples and inflame conflicts in the Amazon Rainforest and other areas.
This case comes at a time when the Brazilian Congress is advancing laws that would reward land grabbing, end environmental licensing, open Indigenous Peoples’ lands to mining, and reduce the size of protected Indigenous Peoples’ lands.
These laws are being pushed by industrial agriculture and other sectors like mining, interested in removing Indigenous Peoples from their land to set up cattle ranches, plantations and mines.
All of these legal changes would cause particular harm to the 115 officially-recognized uncontacted isolated Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, breaking the protective policy of non-contact with them.
Why are the legal changes so unfair to Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples?
Indigenous Peoples’ human rights and lands are protected under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. This means that the Brazilian government must ensure these lands are recognized and protected. Despite this, hundreds of Indigenous Lands have not even been officially recognized — or “demarcated” — by the government.
Now, the far-right industrial agriculture lobby in Brazil is trying to use legal maneuvering in the courts to outright erase the Indigenous land rights outlined in the Constitution.
Even though Indigenous Peoples have occupied these lands since time immemorial, agribusiness interests are trying to draw up an arbitrary rule that Indigenous land claims are only valid if communities were occupying the lands when the 1988 Constitution came into force.
Such a ruling would dismiss the entire history of displacement resulting from violence against Brazilian Indigenous Peoples by state authorities over the last four centuries — murders, massacres, genocides, forced removals from their traditional occupied land and even the intentional spread of disease.
Why does the Indigenous “Struggle for Life” protest matter to all of us outside of Brazil?
The human rights and environmental crises in Brazil are interlinked as their rights are being attacked in order to clear the way for more forest destruction. For landgrabbers, and the mining and industrial agribusiness sectors, they see Indigenous Peoples’ rights as an obstacle to endless expansion.
Indigenous Peoples, especially in the Amazon and other Brazilian forests and wetlands, are on the frontlines of the fight against irreversible climate change. The UN estimates that the land that Indigenous Peoples live on is home to 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity — carbon-absorbing biodiversity that is crucial in the global fight against climate change.
If Indigenous lands in the Amazon are opened up for large scale industrial farming and mining, the rest of the world will struggle to bring climate change under control. Amidst the “code red” climate emergency, we cannot afford to lose the Amazon.
What can you do?
Indigenous Peoples in Brazil have issued an international call for solidarity — and it’s up to us to respond. Here are the 2 most important ways you can support the “Struggle for Life”:
1) Follow the Indigenous mobilization in Brasília this week and share on your social media
Let’s show the Brazilian government and decision-makers everywhere that we stand with Indigenous Peoples of Brazil and support their fight to protect their lands, their rights and their lives. The last time Indigenous Peoples protested in Brasilia they were met with police violence — so we need to show that the world is watching.
2) Call on the Canadian government to take a stand against the Bolsonaro government’s attacks on Indigenous rights and the environment, and reject a trade deal with Brazil
Indigenous leaders in Brazil have called on international governments not to sign trade deals with Bolsonaro. Yet our government still plans to sign the Canada-Mercosur free trade deal with Brazil — and has failed to take any meaningful action in response to the crisis unfolding in the Amazon.
Not only would the Canada-Mercosur deal give Bolsonaro impunity for his attacks on Indigenous rights and the environment, it would actually increase imports of products linked to Amazon destruction into Canada — including as much as $1.8 billion in meat products each year!