The Indigenous Peoples Camp that calls for rights every April in Brazil

Indigenous peoples protest and camp in Brasilia, Brazil, April 2024. Photo by Kamikia/Apib, used with permission.

A group of Indigenous peoples from the south of Brazil traveled by bus to the capital, Brasília, and camped in front of federal government buildings to pressure for the demarcation of Indigenous territories. Among them, there were representatives of ethnicities such as Kaingang, Guarani, Xetá, and Xokleng. The president was Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the year was 2004, the second of his first term.

Twenty years later, the group that started out with around 60 people had grown to 8,000 in the 2024 edition of Acampamento Terra Livre — the Free Land Camp — an event that reunites Indigenous peoples from all over the country every April, for a week, to discuss the main issues related to their communities, create political pressure for their demands and celebrate their cultural diversity. The camp is organized by Brazil's Indigenous Peoples Association (Apib).

”The Serpent of Time”: art at the 20th #ATL2024 ran over two decades. There were many fights over the years, crossing several political situations, governments and today, with thousands of Indigenous people, it arrived at to the Three Powers Square.

“Lula” is the president again, after defeating Jair Bolsonaro in the run-offs of the 2022 national elections. While his predecessor promised in 2018 that ”not an inch of Indigenous land would be demarcated during his government,” Lula had the historical leader Cacique Raoni by his side during his inauguration and created the Indigenous Peoples Ministry. Still, the current government's actions remain unsatisfying.

Dinamam Tuxá, of the Tuxá people, Apib's executive coordinator, explained in an interview with Global Voices:

A nossa relação com o presidente, sempre deixamos claros que somos aliados, mas não somos submissos. Nossa luta é por demarcação de terras e por direitos. Agradecemos e reconhecemos o esforço do presidente em criar um ministério, nomear indígenas para assumir cargos de poder, porém, há uma desmobilização em torno da pauta indígena pelo Executivo como um todo, exceto pelo Ministério dos Povos Indígenas, que tem feito o enfrentamento em defesa dos direitos dos povos.

Our relationship with the president, we always made it clear that we're allies, but not we're not submissive. Our fight is for land demarcation and for rights. We appreciate him and recognize his efforts to create a ministry, to name Indigenous people for positions of power, but, there is a demobilization around the Indigenous issues in the Executive as a whole, except for the Indigenous People's Ministry itself, which has been fighting in our defense.

Time marker vs. land rights

Overview of ATL – the Free Land Camp in Brasilia, April 2024. Photo by Kamikia/Apib, used with permission

Dinamam says they expect Lula to fulfill his promise of demarcating 14 territories, but they also want the government to advance on its actions to comply with the Constitution itself. The Brazilian constitutional text, approved in 1988, after the military dictatorship, states that Indigenous peoples should have their rights to their original lands recognized.

Last September, the Federal Supreme Court (STF) rejected a legal thesis for a time marker that could determine that Brazilian Indigenous people would only be able to claim lands where they were living until 1988. The voting, analyzing a case from land in the southern state of Santa Catarina, started in 2021 and had a score of 9 votes against it and 2 in favor of the thesis.

Justice Luiz Fux, one of the votes against it, said that when the Constitution cites ”traditionally occupied lands,” it refers to territories linked to ancestry and tradition.

An Indigenous person holds a sign with Bill 95/2023: ‘Bill of death’, April 2024. Photo: Lia Bianchini/Apib, used with permission

Later, in 2023, the Agriculture Parliamentarian Front in the National Congress managed to approve a bill setting the time marker, including Lula's vetoes to excerpts of it and disregarding the Supreme Court ruling. The debate went back to the Court, however, with requests by Apib and two political parties (PSOL and Rede) for the bill to be invalidated. Apib also asked for the suspension of the bill since it stops the government itself from taking actions towards demarcations.

Dinamam says:

O que temos hoje são ameaças vindas do Congresso brasileiro, é o Parlamento hoje o mentor e precursor desses retrocessos, que refletem no momento nas aldeias. Está havendo um cenário de violência e instabilidade dentro dos territórios indígenas. É o Congresso que faz proposituras e aprova leis que afrontam o texto constitucional, que paralisa ou tenta paralisar as demarcações de terras indígenas. Essa bancada que domina o Congresso Nacional é uma bancada anti-indígena, reacionária, conservadora, que nega direitos, retira direitos, que quer intervir no texto constitucional.

What we have today are threats coming from the Brazilian Congress, the Parliament today is the mentor and precursor of such throwbacks, which reflects the moment within communities. There is a scenario of violence and instability in Indigenous territories. It's the Congress today who presents proposals and approves laws that affront the Constitution, paralyzing or trying to paralyze the demarcation of Indigenous lands. This bench that dominates the Congress is anti-Indigenous, reactionary, conservative, denies and retracts rights, and wants to intervene in the constitutional text.

Political pressure

In a letter addressed to the three powers of the Republic — executive, legislative and judiciary — several Indigenous movement groups remember that, in the second year of Lula's government, his promises of demarcation are still pending:

Enquanto se discute marcos temporais e se concede mais tempo aos políticos, nossas terras e territórios continuam sob ameaça, nossas vidas e culturas em risco e nossas comunidades em constante luta pela sobrevivência.

While time markers are discussed and more time is granted to politicians, our lands and territories remain under threat, our lives and cultures are at risk and our communities in continuous struggle for survival.

The letter demands immediate demarcation, more action from the federal government in the face of an anti-Indigenous agenda from Congress, and requests regarding policies and programs in health and education.

Brazil Indigenous people protest in Brasilia, 2024: Our mark is ancestry. We've always been here. Photo: Renan Khisetje/Apib/Used with permission

This year, Apib decided that, instead of welcoming President Lula to their space, as they had the previous year, it was an opportunity to push for an official meeting with him and his ministers, with over 20 points of demands to be discussed.

The meeting took place on April 25 at the Planalto Palace, the presidential working office, with Lula, Sonia Guajajara, the minister for Indigenous peoples, among other officials. The president reinforced his commitment to the land demarcations and commissioned a task force to work on the processes.

According to a recently published report by the Land Pastoral Commission (CPT), 2023 registered a record of violence cases in rural areas in Brazil. Indigenous people were almost half of the 31 people killed. Dinaman says:

O impacto pela não-demarcação gera violência e ela é mais latente em determinadas regiões.

Estamos falando em povos que tem seu território ocupado, desmatado, agredido, violado, para dar margem à produção agrícola, à especulação imobiliária, a outras medidas. Quando não há demarcação, dá margem ao desmatamento, ao garimpo ilegal, à violações de direitos humanos e a vulnerabilidade dos povos indígenas que têm seus direitos constitucionais negados.

The impact of non-demarcation generates violence and is more prevalent in certain regions.

We're talking about people whose territories are occupied, deforested, assaulted, violated, to increase agriculture production and real estate speculation, among other things. When there is no demarcation, it opens the door to deforestation, illegal mining, violations of human rights and to the vulnerability of Indigenous people, whose constitutional rights are denied.

Dinamam also notes that, as it has been doing for the past 20 years, the ATL once again celebrated the Indigenous cultural diversity with the people gathered in Brasília. Among posters and signs with demands, quoting bills and threats, there was also a reminder of the ancestry they have over Brazil's territory.

Kayapó people sing during their arrival to the Three Powers square.

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