Social Issues

Brazil grants titles to remote Amazon territory to indigenous peoples

By Eduardo Davis

Alto Rio Guama, Brazil, Jun 28 (EFE).- Brazil’s government on Wednesday officially recognized three indigenous peoples’ ownership over this remote Amazon territory in the southeastern state of Para.

In a ceremony held amid dances and traditional rituals at one of the 42 villages of that territory, the federal indigenous peoples minister, Sonia Guajajara, delivered the titles to that vast expanse of preserved rainforest in the name of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s administration.

“These lands in the hands of indigenous people, of their true owners, are now a guarantee of environmental preservation, the protection of diversity and culture,” Guajajara said.

The president of the National Indigenous Peoples Foundation (Funai), Joenia Wapichana, said for her part that with the land titles in hand the peoples of Alto Rio Guama also will have official backing on social issues and support in the areas of farming and sustainable fishing, the main economic activities in those lands.

The Indigenous Territory of Alto Rio Guama covers an area of 282,000 hectares (1,090 square miles) and is inhabited by around 2,500 members of the Tembe, Timbira and Ka’apor ethnic groups.

Indigenous leader Iguinaldo Tembe said the delivery of the titles marks “the end of a struggle of many decades” that he witnessed first-hand as a boy and in which his father, grandfather “and many other ancestors who are now gone” participated.

The secretary of indigenous affairs in Para, Puyr Tembi, recounted a similar experience in remarks to Efe.

A native of Alto Rio Guama who still lives in that territory, she said that since she was a child she saw her family “struggle and struggle for their rights,” adding that they now have finally been fully recognized.

“Now no one will have to hide anymore,” she said with tears in her eyes, recalling violent episodes she experienced as a girl during invasions by recently evicted non-indigenous settlers.

Legal ownership of those territories was the subject of legal disputes between 1945 and 1993, when Alto Rio Guama was officially recognized by the Brazilian courts as indigenous territory.

Nevertheless, a cumbersome legal process then began to expel 2,000 non-indigenous settlers who had illegally established themselves on those lands.

At times, the process was marred by corrupt agreements between large landowners and judges.

Brazil’s courts ordered the removal of those settlers in 2014, but that ruling only began to be enforced in March of this year, two months after Lula took office and created the Indigenous Peoples Ministry.

“There were no conflicts,” said a military spokesman who was involved in the process of evicting the non-indigenous settlers, many of whom were engaged in illegal logging.

He added that the police and military who were deployed to oversee the settlers’ departure will remain in the area for an undetermined period of time to ensure they do not return and head off potential conflicts.

The presence of some 80 police and soldiers is assured until year’s end, the army spokesman said, adding that the need to keep them beyond that date will be evaluated at a later time. EFE


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