Standoff at Old Indian Museum in Rio

By Anna Kaiser, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Batalhão de Choque (Shock Battalion) police units confronted a squatter community of indigenous Brazilians in the long-standing conflict surrounding a property that was the Museu do Índio (Indian Museum) from 1953 to 1977 – when the museum was moved to Botafogo. The building sits close to the Maracanã Stadium, and preparations for the 2014 World Cup are adding pressure on the government find some resolution.

Standoff between the native indian squatter community and police, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Saturday saw a daylong standoff between the squatter community and police at the site of the old Indian Museum, image recreation.

Police entered the illegal settlement of sixty indigenous Brazilians on Saturday morning and proceeded to engage in a daylong standoff with residents and their supporters. As tension escalated, the squatters emerged with painted faces, headdresses, and bows and arrows and stood on the building’s roof and in its windows as police drew in closer.

State Public Defender Eduardo Newtod had previously obtained a court order stating that law enforcement needed a warrant in order to enter the squatter site. Reports indicate that while the government blamed the request for removal of the Aldeia Maracanã, or “Maracanã Village,” on FIFA, the football (soccer) organization responsible for the World Cup, FIFA representatives responded that they had never called for the action.

State Deputy and head of the Defense of Human Rights Commission, Marcelo Freixo, described the government’s actions as unacceptable. “This is the second shame committed by the government … The first was to say that the demolition of the Indian Museum was a requirement of FIFA, which was never confirmed, because FIFA sent a written communication that never had that request. And now they send a shock troop with out a judicial warrant into Aldeia Maracanã,” Freixo stated in a report.

The old Indian Museum building in the bottom left, in close proximity to Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

The old Indian Museum building in the bottom left, in close proximity to Maracanã Stadium, image recreation.

Support for the squatter communtiy resistance to eviction has grown while the city government has increased pressure. City Councilor Brizola Neto proposed that the abandoned museum be made into a public heritage site, although it stalled in city council.

Public defenders on the state and national level are working to preserve this piece of indigenous culture in the urban metropolis. Under the assumption that the case will fail to be resolved in state court, Federal public defender, Daniel Macedo, is prepared to take the case to Federal Supreme Court.

Supporters argue the building and its grounds represent both historic and modern-day significance. Built in the colonial style in 1862, the Indian Museum represented the government’s first formal recognition and support of indigenous culture.

Today, “the indigenous peoples who occupy Aldeia Maracanã want to create a center for live culture, generated and administered by Indians,” explains long-time supporter and filmmaker Vik Birk Beck.

In the standoff on Saturday, government officials suggested gathering names and information of all the residents so they could be relocated into public housing projects. However, “no one is interested in this proposition as the whole point is that this is a cultural community center, not a housing project,” explained Vik Birck Beck.

In another recent case, Brazilian federal court ruled October 30th that a group of 170 Guarani-Kaiowá ethnic native indians can remain on a one-hectare plot of land in Mato Grosso do Sul state for the time being. The dispute hit the headlines after the group of Indians said they would rather die than be evicted.

10 Responses to "Standoff at Old Indian Museum in Rio"

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  2. Ana K Soares  January 16, 2013 at 12:49 PM

    First of all: the situation of the Guarani Kaiova indians has nothing to do with those Indians that invaded the old building.

    Ok.We have to separate different things that have been mixed in this story and, consequently causing confusion: The building and the Indians.

    First, we have that old building. I am really against the demolition. To substitute a parking lot for a historical building sounds like a shot in our own culture. They plan to demolish a school too – a crime in my opinion. Since FIFA has already approved the surroundings, there is no real reason to put the building down. Someone suggested to restore the building and transform it into a Soccer Museum, which I considered an interesting idea, due to location.

    Regarding the Indians, well, the idea of construction a Center of Native Affairs, sounds real good. The original plans were to transform part that place into rooms for Native Brazilians who are in Rio for studying and working; and to build a center for discussions on Native issues, presentations, shows of Native music and dance; and still a place for selling Native jewelry.

    However, the way those Indians invaded that building wasn’t legal. The Indians were not originally born in that area; many came from distant states to join the movement. Their argument is that the whole Brazilian territory was Indian Land in ancient times. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it?

    In six years, all they did there was to build a big “oca” (Native house”, for their meetings and presentations. The building, better say the ruins hasn’t been fixed, improved or anything. The place looks like an ethnic favella. Which is very bad for the real Native Brazilian Movement. Stereotypes like the “lazy Indian” are still strong in people’s mind. The average Carioca (people who are born in Rio de Janeiro city) doesn’t know much about what life is like in an Indian village.

    In addition, according to the newspapers’ readers’ comments, the people that live in that neighborhood say that, the Indians promote parties plenty of alcohol, sex and drugs.

    I think that such behavior just weakens the real fight for the true Native Brazilians’ rights. Many many many Native Villages needs help. Medical care, education, dignity to live as the First People of this land and not as beggars, victims of these (un)Governments – Federal, State and local.

    The said-Indians that invaded the ruins of the Indian Museum probably know they are illegally occupying the building, but they are trying to manipulate the civil society’s opinion, supported by some politicians and left-oriented groups. There must be other interests involved.

    Regarding the Governor and the Mayor, well… I haven’t voted for any of them. They don’t work for the Rio de Janeiro’s people, but for themselves.

  3. Vik Birkbeck  January 20, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    In reply to Ana Soares, perhaps you should visit Aldeia Maracanã and talk to the indians who are there and see a little of what they have been doing instead of relying on newspapers’ readers comments – never a good source of factual information. Over the last few years they have held monthly story-telling events with the participation of children from neighbouring schools, as well as being invited to the schools to tell indigenous stories. Indigenous leaders from other parts of Brazil often visit the site, as many did during Rio+20. The importance of the Indigenous Movement in Brazil is that it is interlinked. The project of having a live cultural centre in Rio also includes the object of having a reference point and support centre for Indians from other parts of Brazil, including students as with the confirmation of positive discrimination quotas for University entrance systems, many young indigenous people are studying.
    As regards the legality of the occupation and the restoration of the building, it is ironic that the Rio State Government has sponsored some of the story-telling events, with their logo on the poster. It is quite naive to suggest that a group of people with minimal resources can restore a massive nineteenth century building. However the whole surrounding area is kept clean and well cared for, there are plantations, beautiful ancient trees and vegetation which provides a little oasis in the midst of the noise and confusion of the surrounding areas.

  4. Ana K Soares  January 20, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    Vic, I do understand what you say and what you believe in. I hope you are right in everything you said.
    I just want to say that I had been engaged in the Native Brazilian Movement for a loooong time. I do know how Native Villages are like, at least, the Guarani ones, here, in São Paulo and in Parana state. I am the godmother of Tenonde Porã’s chief’s son, which is a great honor.
    I witnessed Aldeia Maracanã’s birth. I never got involved exactly because of warnings that came from other indians. The leadership there changed many times, and I don’t know who is in charge of that movement now. I know they could not restore that building, but they could make it better – like any other people would do.
    I tell you that there are many other projects waiting for sponsorship of so many passionate people. Projects that are closely related to survival.
    Another point. I don’t know if you know, but the NAtive Brazilian Movement is now called Native Brazilian Revolutionary Movement. And they have the support of other movements like MST.
    No thanks. I won’t support that invasion, just because there are indians involved.

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