Good News: Two historic victories for Indigenous people and the rainforest in Brazil 

Indigenous women hugging in celebratory and emotional Supreme Court case ruling in support of Indigenous land rights. Credit: Gustavo Moreno

By Alliance President Terry Gips and Elise Nam, Alliance Intern from Barnard College ‘24 

Two huge victories have just taken place for Brazil’s 1.7 million Indigenous people and its rainforests. First, the country’s Supreme Court voted 9-2 to block agribusiness-backed efforts to dramatically strip Indigenous land rights, according to The Guardian. Brazil Minister for Indigenous People Sônia Guajajara called it a “great achievement” after years of struggle and protest. Indigenous Congresswoman Célia Xakriabá tweeted it is a “victory for struggle, a victory for rights, a victory for our history,” adding: all of “Brazil is Indigenous territory and the future is ancestral.”

The second victory is Brazil’s government has begun removing thousands of non-Indigenous people from two native territories in the heart of the Amazon rainforest based on orders from the Supreme Court, according to the Washington Post. Indigenous groups estimate more than 10,000 non-Indigenous people live in the two territories vs. 2,500 Indigenous people. “The presence of strangers on Indigenous land threatens the integrity of the Indigenous” people and causes “the destruction of forests,” according to the nation’s intelligence agency ABIN. 

ABIN added that about 1,600 families live illegally in that region with some involved in illegal activities such as cattle raising and gold mining, reported WaPo. ABIN stated, “They also destroy native vegetation.”

Indigenous tribes have long suffered from violence, exclusion and land theft from colonialism, the government and the farming, ranching, forestry and mining sectors. This was furthered by white settlement and Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1962-1985, which evicted Indigenous tribes from their ancestral land.

Then, former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s furthered the attacks with his anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental rhetoric that was backed by his historic assault on Indigenous territories by dismantling protection agencies, according to The Guardian. In just his four years of Presidency, deforestation rose 56% in the Amazon and 965 square miles of Indigenous land was lost, according to Grist.

This horrible decline is being reversed by Brazil’s new President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as he has begun rebuilding environmental protection agencies and has so far created eight protected areas for Indigenous people, according to WaPo: “Soon after the beginning of his administration, his government expelled thousands of gold miners from the massive Yanomami Indigenous territory in the northern state of Roraima.”

“State and federal authorities this year also dislodged landgrabbers from the Alto Rio Guama territory. They threatened forcible expulsion of those settlers failing to leave, and pledged to eliminate access roads and irregular installations; nearly all of the illegal residents departed voluntarily,” WaPo added.

Indigenous rights group Survival International research and advocacy director Fiona Watson called the Supreme Court ruling “a momentous, historic victory for Brazil’s Indigenous peoples and a massive defeat for the agribusiness lobby,” according to The Guardian. She added, “So this rejection of it is hugely important – not only for Indigenous peoples, but for the global fight against climate change too.” Survival International says the decision stopped an attempt “to legalize the theft of huge areas of Indigenous lands.”

We are celebrating these two victories and couldn’t agree more with the tweet by Eloy Terena, an Indigenous lawyer who is a senior official at Brazil’s recently created Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, “Long live Indigenous resistance.”

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