With Indigenous rights at stake in Brasília, a territory is attacked in Paraty

  • As lawmakers tussle over the future of Indigenous land rights in Brazil’s capital, Indigenous people in a municipality in Rio de Janeiro state are fending off attacks and threats by settlers who reject their ancestral land rights over the territory.
  • Settlers opposed to the recognition of the Tekohá Dje’y Indigenous Reserve yanked off a new identification plaque marking the reserve, threatened Indigenous leaders and tried to run residents over with a vehicle, the community alleges.
  • The Indigenous group in Paraty, a municipality a four-hour drive from Rio’s capital, blames farmers and land grabbers for the attacks and for not recognizing their rights to the land; the community says authorities are not doing enough to protect them from attacks.
  • The attacks come amid ongoing violence in the Yanomami and Munduruku reserves, where illegal miners have invaded Indigenous lands in search of gold. Indigenous groups are protesting in Brasília this week against a host of anti-Indigenous bills that could weaken land rights and legalize the mining.

As lawmakers tussle over the future of Indigenous land rights in Brazil’s capital, Indigenous people in a municipality in Rio de Janeiro state are fighting off attacks and threats by settlers who reject their ancestral land rights over a territory being processed for official recognition.

Indigenous people in the Tekohá Dje’y territory in Paraty, a municipality a four-hour drive from Rio’s capital, received death threats and heard gunshots in their village last week, according to a statement and interview with the group.

The attacks came as the community — made up of 40 Indigenous people from the Guarani Mbyá and Nhandeva ethnicities — blocked off the entrance to the reserve in a peaceful protest over the alleged theft of an identification plaque installed to mark the territory, according to Indigenous leaders.

During the confrontation, Neusa Kunhã Takua Porã, deputy hief of the Indigenous village, said there were attempts to run her nephew over with a car while she was threatened with arrest. According to Neusa Porã, military police were on the scene but did not stop the attacks.

“At night, the attackers come around our homes in the village, they fire shots,” Neusa Porã told Mongabay in a phone interview. “We’ve been assaulted, verbally and physically. It’s extremely dangerous for us.”

The Tekohá Dje’y territory was officially recognized in 2017 but is still in the process of being fully demarcated. Indigenous residents say they face constant attacks by land grabbers, real estate speculators and farmers who do not recognize their ancestral land rights. Image courtesy of the Tekohá Dje’y community.

The community said it believes the plaque, installed after a three-day traditional ceremony in early June, was forcibly removed by non-Indigenous settlers opposed to the reserve’s demarcation. The process for obtaining official recognition of the Indigenous reserve began in 2017 and is still ongoing.

“We’re facing a violent process of demarcation,” said Neusa Porã, noting that she has received multiple death threats. “There are many land grabbers, there’s very strong land speculation within our territory … They are trying to paralyze, to halt the process of demarcation.”

Indigenous leaders say their community has been suffering constant attacks and intimidation for nearly two years. They blame farmers and land grabbers who do not recognize their rights to the land.

“The [Tekohá Dje’y] is under daily attacks, under pressure from land grabbers, real estate speculators, landowners and under the widespread neglect of the federal and municipal governments with an openly anti-Indigenous policy,” the community wrote in a statement.

Authorities have failed to provide robust protection to their community, Indigenous leaders told Mongabay, claiming these settlers enjoy the support of local lawmakers who have repeatedly spoken out against the demarcation.

The Federal Police told Mongabay in an email it has been “acting within the limits of its prerogative, investigating any offenses within federal jurisdiction, and in a preventive manner, promoting dialogue between those involved and supporting the responsible bodies and authorities.” Funai, the federal agency tasked with protecting Indigenous interests, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Guarani Nhandeva people once occupied swaths of southern Brazil, northern Argentina and eastern Paraguay, according to the Instituto Socioambiental, an NGO that defends environmental diversity and the rights of Indigenous peoples. With the arrival of European colonizers, Guarani territories became the scene of disputes due to the region’s strategic importance for the settlers.

The Tekohá Dje’y reserve was officially recognized in 2017 by Funai. But demarcation in Brazil can take years. Non-Indigenous residents are not obliged to leave until the reserve is fully demarcated and the government issues an eviction order.

The Federal Public Ministry said federal prosecutors had urgently requested the government to move forward with the demarcation last year, highlighting the violence in the reserve.

“This is an area of ​​interest for several tourist and agribusiness ventures, which increases land conflicts,” federal prosecutor Ígor Miranda warned in a statement last year. Miranda also called for the process to be concluded within 24 months and for fines to be imposed in case of delays.

The office of Paraty Mayor Luciano Vidal did not respond to a request for comment. In a Facebook post last year, Vidal said he had formed a task force to mediate the conflict between the settlers and the Indigenous community.

The attack in Tekoha Dje’y is not an isolated case. In the Yanomami reserve in Roraima state, attackers have reportedly thrown gas bombs and opened fire on Indigenous residents with automatic weapons in a series of attacks over the last month. Further violence reportedly sent Indigenous people fleeing this week. On June 16, miners allegedly fired shots at the homes of Indigenous people, according to Coiab, an umbrella group of Indigenous organizations.

The Munduruku Indigenous Reserve in Pará state has also been under attack, with illegal miners firing shots and setting fire to the homes of Indigenous leaders in late May. This week, authorities arrested the head of an association of illegal miners and the deputy mayor of the municipality in connection with the attack, according to Federal Police and Indigenous groups.

The violence on Indigenous reserves comes as roughly 800 Indigenous leaders gathered in the capital Brasília this week to protest several anti-Indigenous proposals currently before Congress. These include a bill that would allow illegal miners to exploit Indigenous reserves.

On June 16, Indigenous leaders were pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed by police while demonstrating at the entrance to the Funai headquarters in Brasília, according to Indigenous groups.

In a statement, Funai said it does not condone “illicit conduct and rejects any form of violence,” insisting it is open to dialogue with Indigenous people.

Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court was also poised to hear a landmark case this week that will decide if Indigenous people can only claim lands they were physically living on when Brazil’s Constitution was signed in 1988, known as marco temporal. But the case was postponed indefinitely when one of the justices took it off the agenda.

The marco temporal’ could have far-reaching implications for reserves like Tekoha Dje’y. Indigenous residents there only reclaimed their ancestral land in the early 2000s, four decades after being forcibly expelled when their homes were burned down and villages destroyed.

Banner image: Indigenous people in the Tekohá Dje’y territory in Paraty installed a plaque marking the area in a three day sacred ceremony in early June. But the plaque was forcibly removed and the community is facing threats and attacks by settlers opposed to the demarcation, Indigenous leaders say. Image courtesy of the Tekohá Dje’y community.

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