Brazil: Over 500 Indian Chiefs Camp at the Doors of the Ministries

    More than 500 indigenous leaders from all over Brazil have come to Brazilian capital BrasÀ­lia and gathered at the Ministerial Esplanade. Their intention is to hold there, between April 4 and 6, the 3rd Free Land Camp.

    Considered by the indigenous organizations and their supporters as the main mobilization within their calendar of struggles, the main objective of the Free Land Camp is to press the Federal Government to guarantee the constitutional rights of the indigenous people, especially the right to protection for their lands.

    "This camp will show our strength, and show people that we are still alive, in spite of all the massacres," said the leader of the Guarani-Kaiowá people, Anastácio Peralta.

    In the opinion of the coordinator of the Forum for the Defense of Indigenous People’s Rights, Francisco Avelino, of the Apurinã people, the Camp is a way of drawing the attention of society to the real situation of the indigenous people.

    "According to Avelino, there is still no dialog in place with the authorities to enable their demands to be permanently met, "at this time of year, the Government usually introduces some temporary measures, but we do not demobilize".

    Valéria Payé, of the Tiryó people, leader of the indigenous women’s movement, sees these actions as a clear attempt to co-opt the movement.

    "The government tries to keep us quiet by carrying out these actions right in the month of April," says Payé referring to the decree that set up the National Policy for Indigenous People (CONAPI) and the Indigenous People’s Conference of the National Foundation for Indigenous People.

    Because of the intensity of the manifestations throughout the country, the month has been called Indigenous April. As well as the Free Land Camp, the calendar for April also includes a series of manifestations throughout Brazil: 1 and 2 April: National Meeting of Indigenous Women, in Brasí­lia; 15 April: celebration of the first anniversary of the ratification of the Raposa Serra do Sol, land in Roraima; Indigenous People’s Week, mobilization in the states planned during the Free Land Camp; 20 to 23 April: participation in the Brazilian Social Forum, in Recife; 21 to 26 April:  Coiab Meeting, in Roraima.

    Camp’s History

    Little more than six months after President Lula took power, around 50 leaders of the Kaingang, Guarani and Xokleng peoples knocked on the doors of Brasí­lia to claim that the promises made during the election campaign be carried out, by camping on the Ministerial Esplanade in front of the Ministry of Justice, from 26 June to 3 July, 2003.

    The objective of the protest was to get a meeting with the Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, to deal with regulating their lands immediately. The leaders also asked the government for a clear position concerning the direction of indigenous policy in the country.

    As well as the peoples from the South, over the last few days the camp was reinforced by 15 indigenous leaders of the Krahô-Kanela people, who are still, today, demanding the demarcation of their lands.

    This action turned into an important training and reference point in the indigenous people’s struggle, such that the following year, 200 leaders from 33 indigenous peoples from every region in the country, came together in the same place, to repeat the event camping out from 14 to 22 April. This was to be the first nationwide mobilization of the Lula government.

    As a symbol of their struggles, the leaders chose solidarity with the struggle of the people of Roraima for the ratification of the Raposa Serra do Sol indigenous land. The name given to the camp referred to the Assembly of the Indigenous Council of Roraima, who, even without the ratification decree, had declared the Raposa Serra do Sol as a "Free Land".

    Thus, all the peoples that took part in the camp chose freedom for their territories – that is, regulation of and no intrusions into their land – as a priority of the mobilization.

    So that their claims could be heard, the two hundred leaders occupied the plenary hall of the National Congress for nine days. This bold action led to the indigenous movement’s first hearing with President Lula and to one of its most important conquests: promulgation of International Labor Organization Convention No. 169, which is an important normative landmark in the relationships between the nation states and indigenous peoples.

    The object of the convention is to put an end to integrationist policies concerning the indigenous peoples and their substitution by ethnic and cultural pluralism.

    As a result of this mobilization, the Forum for the Defense of Indigenous People’s Rights, which brings together the main indigenous organizations and their supporters, was started up again.

    In 2005, when it was held for the second time, the Free Land Camp involved more than 800 leaders from 89 peoples coming from different regions of the country.

    A large, colorful tent was put up an the center of the "settlement", where plenary sessions were held to debate the indigenous land regulation processes, the bills and the constitutional amendments which threaten indigenous rights in the National Congress and the creation of the National Council for Indigenous Policy.

    Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council

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