Extractivism, ecocide and the effects of the climate and ecological crisis do not affect the global population equally. As the climate crisis escalates and we move closer to COP26 this November, countries in the Global North continue to offer green washed promises and speculative solutions which allow them to continue business as usual whilst exploiting those who have contributed the least to the crisis.

It is essential we pass the mic, and offer solidarity, strength and solutions to the earth defenders on the frontline around the world. 

Over the coming weeks and months we’ll continue to cover ‘Stories from the Frontline’, aiming to focus and give voice to the Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA). Please get in touch if you have a story you’d like to share or know of areas and issues we should cover. This week, we’re covering the assault on Indigenous land rights in Brazil and how Indigenous Peoples are mobilising in the run-up to a historic court case…

Source: Association of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil (APIB)

What’s happening?

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro and agri-business lobbies are trying to strip away constitutional land rights of Indigenous communities so lands can be exploited for profit. The new proposed legislation would restrict demarcation (official recognition) of Indigenous territories, ease restrictions for the private sector to extract gold and timber, and legalise land grabbing – which would have devastating consequences for Indigenous livelihoods and the Amazon rainforest. 

Several bills are currently being rushed through Congress without involving Indigenous Peoples, the public or scientists. The most controversial pieces of legislation are 

  • Bill 490: Strips back Indigenous land rights and allows unrestricted access to natural resources. It was proposed by Brazil’s powerful agro-business lobby.
  • Bill 191: Establishes conditions for industrial mining, oil and gas exploration and large-scale agriculture – breaching the internationally recognised right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples and removing their ability to veto harmful activities on their lands.
  • Bill 3729: Creates exemptions from environmental licensing for harmful activities such as cattle raising
  • Bill 510: Legalises land grabbing by non-indigenous people on Indigenous land

The Brazilian government seems to be in quite a rush! These bills are being pushed in order to expand the agriculture industry, driven by the high demand for soy and beef products in Global North countries. This trend of overconsumption in the West is closely connected to the destruction of culture and territory in Indigenous populations and perpetuates historical patterns of colonialism and racial capitalism.

Kretã Kaingang, executive coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), shared these words of warning: “The project allows the government to remove from the possession of Indigenous Peoples areas that have been official for decades, opens the Indigenous Lands wide to predatory undertakings, such as mining, and, in practice, will make demarcations unfeasible, totally paralyzed by the Bolsonaro government.”

How are people affected?

The so-called “Trial of the Century” began on June 30 in Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court and will determine the legal interpretation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples over their land. The court will analyse a land repossession lawsuit filed by the state government of Santa Catarina against Indigenous Peoples. This is a landmark case which will serve as a future guideline for the Brazilian federal government. The court will also discuss a previous ruling that suspended all evictions of Indigenous Peoples during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Source: Amazon Watch

A bit of history…

The Supreme Court of Brazil is deciding whether to adopt the government’s “Marco Temporal” interpretation of the constitution – also termed the “Time Limit Trick” – which restricts Indigenous lands to those where they lived when the constitution was signed in 1988. This temporal mark is a legal grey zone and widely known to enable the economic exploitation of Indigenous Territories and prevent them from reclaiming their ancestral lands. It ignores the forced removals and violence Indigenous Peoples endured at the end of military dictatorship before the Brazilian Constitution was established, and the fact that prior to 1988 Indigenous groups did not have autonomy to file their own lawsuits to reclaim their lands.

Historically, Indigenous people have used the constitution to reclaim some of their ancestral lands which had been degraded by industrial activities. This enabled them to regenerate ecosystems and communities. The court case may reverse that process, leading to mass evictions of entire populations and destruction of ecosystems – continuing a historical process of colonialism and genocide.

How are Indigenous Peoples resisting?

Indigenous groups from across the country are now mobilising against the Time Limit Trick principle, which will return to court on August 25. In June, around 850 leaders fom 43 Indigenous nations joined the “Rise for the Earth” camp in Brasilia, protesting the government’s failure to protect indigenous rights and demanding the immediate withdrawal of anti-indigenous and anti-environment legislations being pushed by the Brazilian Congress. The protest was met with violence and raised the profile of this issue. Now a nationwide mobilisation, organised by the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), runs under the banner of “The Fight for Life” to organise another camp in Brasilia August 22-28. 

“Content warning: Police violence”

On August 9 – the International Day of Indigenous Peoples – APIB, alongside over 60 unions and activist organisations are pressing charges against president Bolsonaro at The Hague over human rights violations, genocide, and possibly ecocide.APIB are now calling for activist groups across the country to mobilise in solidarity with the court case on August 9.

The Guaraní – A population under threat

Comissão Guaraní Yvyrupa (CGY) is an autonomous Indigenous organisation founded in 2007, bringing together the villages of Guaraní people located in the South and Southeast of Brazil in their common struggle for land rights, as they will be amongst the most affected by the landmark case. CGY works with APIB and defends the land rights of Guaraní communities in more than 600 lawsuits. This does not come without pushback – the Brazilian government is trying to outlaw Guaraní education and Indigenous activists are being beaten, tortured and murdered on a regular basis for defending their land and traditions.

In recent decades, CGY enabled some Guaraní communities to reclaim their ancestral lands after they had been converted to eucalyptus monocultures and as a result severely degraded. By combining their traditional knowledge with agro-ecology, the communities re-introduced a diverse array of native species and used soil restoration techniques to preserve biodiversity in the Atlantic forest whilst also producing nutritious food for their communities.

Source: Comissão Guaraní Yvyrupa

Why is this important?

While Indigenous People only make up 0.4% of the Brazilian population, they protect up to 20% of all biodiversity, which makes them the last barrier of defence against biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse. Guaraní have vital to the flourishing of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil for thousands of years. Despite being home to at least 10% of known biodiversity, the Amazon rainforest now emits more carbon than it absorbs. If we want to successfully fight the climate crisis, we must stand in solidarity with Indigenous people and recognise their rights to land.

A message from the Guaraní…

Addressed to Brazilian agro-businesses and congressmen, CGY are broadcasting this message by Karai MirĪ from the Guaraní community: 

“I did not make the land where I live, neither did you. Despite this, you want all the land to yourselves, as if you have made the land. You have only become politicians to get rich. You only care about elections every four years. And because of this you want to destroy the laws that protect us. You think that exterminating us will benefit you. 

We need a place to sleep, a place to raise our children. This is what we need the land for. But since we don’t sell land, you don’t want to give it back to us. You act like you have created this land, created the woods, created the water. If we want water in your cities, we must buy it. Your thinking is overcome by an uncontrollable greed. Where is your heart?

Nhanderu (Our Father) wants us to care for each other, to be compassionate to each other. This land is Nhanderu’s, the woods and the birds that live here. But there are no more fruit trees for the birds to feed. You destroyed all the animals we hunt. Are we going to live in a desert, in a devastated land without food to eat?

Because of this I am angry with you white people, you congressmen. Why do you only care about abusing those who suffer?  To make more laws to complicate our lives? You want to deceive all Indigenous Peoples. My body you can kill. But you can never kill my spirit.”

#BeCurious…

  • Amplify the court case against president Bolsonaro on August 9!
  • Share and donate to the crowdfunder supporting the Guaraní. Donations will be used to fund transport, food, supplies and equipment needed for the communities to make their voices heard in the capital and other sites of resistance across Brazil.
  • Follow the Guaraní on Facebook and Instagram.

Source: Rise for the Earth

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