Brazil’s smallest indigenous reserve fights for survival

By Wallace Dias

São Paulo, Brazil, April 17 (EFE).- Just a few kilometers from Sao Paulo’s bustling center is Brazil’s smallest indigenous reserve, Jaraguá, whose inhabitants have been embroiled in a legal battle with authorities over the city’s encroachment into the pristine natural habitat.

The reserve is spread over around 1.7 hectares, less than two soccer fields, and is home to six villages where some 800 members of the Guarani ethnic group live in informal, favela-style slum housing, but the community and its centuries-old knowledge is under threat as the booming city continues to expand.


In a bid to share information about Jaraguá and its people, community leaders launched a cultural festival showcasing music, art and fashion to share their way of life with the “people of the city.”

The residents say the event was in response to the growing “hostility” fueled in the last four years by the anti-environmental rhetoric of Brazil’s far-right former leader Jair Bolsonaro.

“We are going through a difficult process because incursions are taking place within our territory. There is a lot of real estate speculation. Companies do not consult with us, as is our right. This causes a lot of insecurity,” chief Márcio Verá Mirim, 38, tells EFE.

The festival includes guided tours of the hives where native stingless bees breed and a fashion show by Irene Mendonça, a member of the Guarani Ñandeva community and founder of the Kunhague Rembiapó Rendá clothing brand, which means “place where women do things.”

The catwalk was a lush green walkway and featured Amazonian model Emilly Nunes, who recently walked the runway for Diesel in Milan, and indigenous activist Txai Suruí, who went viral with her speech at COP-26 in 2021.

“It is important that images like these reach more people so that we indigenous people are more included. Doors must be opened,” Nunes tells EFE.

The Jaraguá reserve was officially approved in 1987.

In 2015, Dilma Rousseff’s government decreed the expansion of its lands to 532 hectares, but the project was paralyzed when the former president was impeached.

Her successor Michel Temer dampened the joy of the Guarani people by annulling the decree, calling it an “administrative error.”

Bolsonaro’s rise to power in 2019 buried any hope for environmental projects like the extension of the Jaraguá reserve.

During his four-year term, the ultra-right leader refused to recognize “any more centimeters” of indigenous lands.

“Discrimination and violence against the youth of the community came with more force during Bolsonaro’s administration,” Verá Mirim recalls.


But the political climate has changed again, and under incumbent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the government has reversed Bolsonaro’s environmental policy, which had encouraged the exploitation of woodland and minerals on protected indigenous lands.

Lula has established the Ministry of Indigenous People and promised to resume the creation of new reserves “quickly”, although he is yet to enact any practical changes.

However, Verá Mirim remains optimistic and says that Lula’s arrival has inspired hope.

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