Arbitrary relocations and livelihood conditions for indigenous peoples in Araguaia, Brazil

In the state of Mato Grosso, an example of what has been the indigenous peoples’ recent history in Brazil can be found on the Araguaia region. The Bororo and the Xavante are historically two indigenous peoples in conflict, with different means of livelihood; the first mostly dependent on fishing, agriculture and hunting, and the latter mostly on hunting. Yet, they have been “put together” by previous local governments in an area too narrow for those activities. As a result, this policy has made them highly dependent on Government support.

By Moara Crivelente 

Men prepare for the Buriti Run (Uiwed), in the Xavante Namunkurá – “São Marcos
Indigenous Land / Reserve” – in Barra do Garças (state of Mato Grosso).
Photo credit: Núcleo de Produção Digital da Universidade Federal do Mato Grosso

Prevented from hunting, the Xavantes have little means of feeding their families, and have begun to develop small economic activities such as the confection of souvenirs that remind tourists of their villages. Some schools were built, but the education system in that region is poor and the local government is supposedly unable to reach them, thus failing to provide support.

Schools do not work properly and the indigenous leaders complain about the lack of structure and professional assistance so they can educate their children. Aniceto Xavante, one of the leaders interviewed, complains about the difficulty of maintaining their language and culture, since they do not have enough support and structure. He claims that the Xavantes were already “put in a small space” and, consequently, that their cultural references “do not fit here”.

The Bororos were also affected by this arbitrary relocation policy. They were settled in six different and non-contiguous areas three hundred times smaller than their traditional territories. Still, one of the reserves established by the Protection Service of Indigenous Peoples was frequently invaded by farmers and it is currently occupied by an entire city.

More than 13% of the Brazilian territory has been set as indigenous reserves for over 200 nations so far; however, many of these reserves are object of dispute – mostly violent and fatal – between indigenous peoples and alleged “land owners” in different regions.

The health care is also extremely precarious in those areas. The reserves are supervised by various entities, since Government secretaries and institutions (such as FUNAI, the National Foundation for the Indigenous peoples) until religious missionaries. Still, the mortality rates are extremely high, especially among children. The Bororo are mostly affected by infectious diseases related to sanitation and by alcoholism; the Xavantes have a high infantile mortality rate – above the national average – mostly caused by easily treatable diseases, a result of the lack of sanitation conditions and of contaminated water.

The local and the national Governments have knowledge, means and legislation necessary for the promotion of rights, improvement of livelihood conditions and inclusiveness of indigenous peoples in Brazil, including through special secretaries for education and health in remote areas.

There is urgent need for an intensive follow-up of conditions – such as the educational and health insufficiencies or the violence on which indigenous and non-indigenous peoples relations are often based. The engagement of motivated professionals and the reports published nation-wide are as important as a more effective implementation of policies already launched, partnering with indigenous communities already highly mobilized for their rights.

(The interview and visit to the region took place in 2010)

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