August 8, 2013

A letter of protest: In defense of the rights of indigenous peoples and traditional populations in Amazonia

We, the researchers, professors and technicians in Anthropology and Linguistics at the National Museum/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the Goeldi Museum/Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology, honoring a tradition of more than a century working with diverse indigenous peoples and traditional populations, hereby declare:

Our repudiation of proposed Complementary Law No. 227 of 2012 in the Brazilian House of Representatives, which aims to make changes to Article 231 of the Brazilian Federal Constitution of 1988 defining the public interest in demarcating Indigenous Lands. These changes threaten the rights of indigenous peoples to the exclusive use of their territories, thus allowing the legalization of large private landholdings, hydroelectric dams, highways, and mining and other resource extraction projects on Indigenous Lands;

Our repudiation of the murders of indigenous Terena and Guarani people, killed in the context of defending their territories from invasion by ranchers in the state of Mato Grosso. Elsewhere in Amazonia, many other indigenous people have been murdered over conflicts involving land and access to natural resources, though the press does not always cover these stories nor do the authorities adequately investigate these crimes;

We express our support for the struggles of indigenous peoples and traditional populations in defense of their ancestral territories, and our solidarity with indigenous groups of Pará such as the Munduruku, Arara, Xipaia-Curuaia and Mebêngôkre-Kayapó, who have resorted to lawful protest to publicly express their resistance to government policies that infringe on their Constitutionally guaranteed rights. They oppose the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam but they have sought peaceful dialog with the Brazilian authorities; 

Based on the recognition of indigenous rights expressed in the Brazilian Constitution of 1988 and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization as ratified by the Brazilian Congress, we pronounce ourselves against government policies that seek to restrict the demarcation of indigenous and quilombo (traditional Afro-Amazonian community) lands. In this respect we join our voices with popular movements that protest against the hollowing out of agrarian reform and the delays in identifying and demarcating indigenous lands and quilombos. The only solution to the current wave of violence in rural Amazonia is to address the socioeconomic inequalities, socio-environmental injustices, illegal land seizures and political and criminal impunity that reign today in Brazil. 

Finally, based on the principles of socially engaged science, we consider the ethnic and cultural diversity of Brazil and Latin America do be one of its greatest riches. This diversity of life ways and knowledge systems is a collective heritage of the Brazilian nation and the Latin American continent. We recognize native peoples and other traditional populations in Amazonia, including those currently emerging to demand their collective rights, as a fundamental element of this continent. Our ethical role as scientists is also to fight together with them in defense of their territories and other rights, for the preservation of indigenous and traditional peoples’ knowledge, including their full recognition in the educational system and interaction with other knowledge systems. 

August 8, 2013