BRASILIA – (AFP) – Hundreds of indigenous people from across Brazil pressed Congress Tuesday to block a reform package meant to benefit farmers which they say threatens their way of life.
“We are against the invasion of our lands. We are the original inhabitants. The white man is bossing us around. We don’t like it. We want respect,” said chief Raoni of the Kayapo tribe, with his trademark wreath of yellow feathers and painted wooden plate placed under his lower lip.
“We demand that these bills be revoked. Where we were raised is where you find the spirit of the indigenous people, the spirit of water, the spirit of the forest. We will not leave these lands,” said Oriel Guarani Kaiowa, representing the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe of central Brazil.
Last year, he sought to attract world attention to stop plans to evict his community in a land dispute with wealthy white ranchers.
He also urged authorities to speed up demarcation of indigenous ancestral lands.
Indigenous Guarani people, whose total population in Brazil is estimated at 46,000, have been trying to recover a small portion of their original territories but face violent resistance from wealthy ranchers as well as soybean and sugar cane plantation owners.
The violence is linked to land disputes in a country where one percent of the population controls 46 percent of the cultivated land.
The main target of the natives’ ire is a bill called PEC 215, a constitutional reform that transfers from the government to Congress the the authority to approve and demarcate native lands and environmental conservation parks.
“To turn over control of the definition of indigenous lands to Congress with its powerful pro-agribusiness bloc, is dangerous,” warned deputy Mariton de Holanda, coordinator of the Congressional Front for the Defense of Indigenous Peoples.
“It is an attempt by the farming bloc to remove this authority from the executive branch,” he added.
Also under consideration by Congress is bill PEC 237 which would authorize granting concessions on native lands to farmers.
Authorities are also looking into regulating mining operations on indigenous lands.
Roughly 12 percent of Brazil’s territory is today recognized as indigenous territories.
But de Holanda explained that many areas in those territories are subject to disputes due to encroachment by ranchers over the past decades.
Indigenous peoples represent less than one percent of Brazil’s 194 million-strong population, official data show.