By Mariana Simoes, Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Hundreds of indigenous people hailing from over thirty different tribes across the country made their way Brasília for a week of protests against the proposed constitutional amendment PEC 215. Outside Congress under a banner announcing “Indigenous People Occupy Brazil,” the group aimed to have the bill, seen as a serious threat to indigenous land rights and awaiting congressional approval, quashed.
The proposed change would transfer the power to create indigenous reservations away from the executive branch of Congress to the legislative, threatening to diminish the power that FUNAI (the National Indian Foundation) has over indigenous territories. If lawmakers become involved in land rights planning, it is feared that agricultural interests are likely to be placed before indigenous considerations.
“We are protesting against PEC because it will threaten the creation of Indian reservations,” Piki Pataxó, chief of the Aldeia Coroa Vermelha, an indigenous tribe located in Southern Bahia in the municipal of Santa Cruz Cabrália, told The Rio Times.
According to Piki, indigenous groups have a direct conflict of interest with the politicians running the legislative branch of government. “Today, many ministers and congressmen are industrial farmers. They won’t want to set aside any land for us and we will lose our autonomy, our identity, our culture,” he said.
On Thursday, October 3rd, Chief Piki and fellow protesters marched towards Congress led by Chief Raoni do Xingu, an international spokesperson for indigenous rights, to retrieve PEC 215 from Congress and burn it, only to be halted by a barricade of military policemen.
In a bid to prevent the demonstrations from descending into violence, 31 representatives were invited to submit a written request to put the bill on hold but the protesters instead brought out a coffin filled with photographs of several of the politicians behind the bill, including minister Gleisi Hoffmann and Luis Adams who drafted the PLP 227, and buried it under Congress’ lawns.
In a final gesture to appease the crowds, congressman Lincoln Portela granted ten indians permission to enter Congress, retrieve the PEC, and burn it. A cross was then fixed to the ground on top of the document’s ashes.
While PEC may have been buried, indigenous leaders believe that the struggle to secure their basic rights is far from over. Dourado Tapeba is the executive coordinator of APOINME, a council for indigenous rights that represents all of the Northeast as well as the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo. According to Dourado, they constantly have to go through a lot of red tape just to place their needs on the national political agenda.
“I’ll give you an example: my people wanted to publish a report on August 27th and we had to send the mayor of our town here [to Brasília] to be heard. We then had to go to parliament to talk to the governor and nothing really got resolved,” he told The Rio Times.
Fueled by the successful defeat of PEC 215, Dourado guarantees that he won’t be backing down from the fight any time soon. “I’m here today to continue to defend not only my tribe, but indigenous people from all over Brazil.”