Celebrating World Indigenous Day in Brazil

9 August 2019

Wanem Kanamari speaks of the injustices faced by the Kanamari people at the ‘Task Force in Defence of Indigenous Rights’.

Wanem Kanamari speaks of the injustices faced by the Kanamari people at the ‘Task Force in Defence of Indigenous Rights’. Credit: Raimundo Francisco Silva, CIMI Tefe

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is a particularly poignant date to mark in Brazil. Since the election of the right-wing government in January 2019, indigenous peoples have faced the most severe threats to their lands and livelihoods since the military dictatorship of the 1980s.

Indigenous peoples are experiencing relentless attacks on their rights to land, health and education through budget cuts, proposed constitutional amendments, and threats to revoke and halt indigenous land titling processes.

These changes are being implemented as part of a wider governmental agenda to open up indigenous lands to economic interests.

Without their rights to land, health and education enshrined in law and in practice, indigenous peoples have no future. The implications are equally dire for the Amazon rainforest - a precious resource that we all depend on for its role in regulating the planet’s oxygen and carbon levels.

Ask the government to act urgently to tackle the climate crisis

Protecting the Amazon

CAFOD has been supporting indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon for over three decades. Working alongside our longstanding partner CIMI Tefe, along with Caritas Tefe, we are protecting the rights of indigenous peoples along the Middle Solimoes river.

In this region, communities are particularly isolated and vulnerable to rights violations. These include:

  • illegal invasions of their lands to hunt, fish, and extract sand and wood
  • threats to leaders who claim their rights to land
  • lack of access to healthy drinking water
  • lack of qualified health service staff and access to adequate healthcare and medication
  • lack of respect for cultural practices and traditional medicines
  • lack of quality educational materials, school meals, and training for indigenous bilingual teachers.

Co-funded by the European Union, the project has recently celebrated some significant achievements. More than 2,245 indigenous people from 34 different communities took part in the project’s training, advocacy and campaigning activities. 41% of them were women.

Defending the rights of indigenous peoples

Wanem, an indigenous female leader from Carauari, told us:

“With the training of the CIMI project we began to see how much we have lost, and we increasingly understand how to guarantee our rights. And from now on, we Kanamari and other indigenous peoples will continue to advocate and struggle for our rights.”

Some of the indigenous communities’ actions have already started to bear fruit:

  • In Carauari, indigenous leaders met for the first time with the Federal Environment Agency. It pledged to sign a cooperation agreement to prevent the withdrawal of natural resources in indigenous lands.
  • In Japura, city council members committed to vote in a draft law establishing the Body for Indigenous School Education. Indigenous communities can now influence crucial decisions that affect their children’s futures.

Yet progress on land titling has completely halted as a result of the change in government. Of the 1,306 lands claimed by indigenous peoples in Brazil, 847 are still awaiting legal status.

As the Catholic Church prepares for its first ever Amazon Synod in October, we continue to champion climate justice. We must not forget those indigenous communities in Brazil who are at the forefront of this global crisis.

Learn more about the Amazon Synod

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