The 6th Meeting of Brazil’s Association of Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and EspÀrito Santo (Apoinme) took place June 6 to June 9 in Bahia da Traição, 90 km from João Pessoa, state of Paraíba.
The meeting, which brought together around 250 delegates, ended with plans for the organization’s role for the coming year actions. These will focus on training leaders, reinforcing work in the settlements and continuing with national demonstrations.
When Apoinme was set up, in 1990, indigenous people were fighting against prejudice from the surrounding society and difficulties to ensure their ethnic recognition.
Fifteen years later, the Meeting still needs to take up a position opposing official institutions such as the National Foundation for Indigenous People (Funai) and the National Health Foundation (Funasa) which, based on “proof which depends exclusively on Funai” for ethnic recognition, have refused to cater to peoples who have not had their land situation straightened out, or who have not been granted “ethnic recognition” by Funai.
In the opinion of the indigenous people, this goes against the Federal Constitution and ILO (International Labor Organization) Convention 169, which confirms indigenous people’s right to self identification.
In the Meeting’s resolutions, the participants “vehemently reject” Funasa for its policy of refusing to cater to indigenous people who live outside indigenous lands or whose lands have not yet been identified and demarcated.
The non-existence of a clear indigenous policy as a basis for the role of the Brazilian State concerning indigenous people and the non-participation of these peoples in planning these policies have led to the existence of an organization like Funai, which is unable to inspect the role of other organizations and is not committed to sorting out the indigenous land issue.
In the debates, they clearly stress the lack of legitimacy of an official agency in charge of indigenous people whose methods and priorities are defined without the participation of the indigenous people, contradicting the Brazilian law and Convention 169.
“Funai is based on tutelage, on concepts that have been inherited from the military dictatorship which were rejected after the Constitution of 1988 was promulgated,” said anthropologist Estêvão Palitot from the Federal University of Paraíba.
“Mércio [Pereira Gomes, president of Funai] has to respect this movement. We are faced with a policy of non-publication of land identification studies. Funai takes advantage of the reports being delayed and doesn’t listen to us, saying that there is no report, that there are no resources for this or that area.
“In our communities, we are facing gunmen, farmers, prospectors and lumberjacks,” said Luiz Titiah, leader of the Pataxó Hã-Hã-Hãe people, who concluded that it would be necessary to strengthen the indigenous movement: “What we have to do is to strengthen our organization,” he said.
In this context, the Meeting decided to pass a motion repudiating the president of Funai, because of his discriminatory posture towards the indigenous peoples of the Northeast and the East.
In one motion, they positioned themselves against “Funai’s policy of reducing Indigenous Lands” and against “the policy opposing the revision of the boundaries of indigenous lands in Brazil which have already been identified and ratified.”
Apoinme questions the “decision of the president of Funai not to set up the National Council for Indigenous Policy,” which Gomes had promised to do during “Indigenous April.”
The debates about the current national situation have come back to touching on the difficult relationship between the indigenous people and the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.
Alongside criticisms of the health service and the absence of transparency in public resource management, the indigenous people have proposed the holding of a competitive public examination for hiring health professionals under the responsibility of Funasa and to remove this competency from the city halls. Throughout the Meeting, the transfer of federal duties to third parties was criticized.
Between the debates, the indigenous people sang songs and danced the Toré, a ritual that is nowadays performed by a large part of the peoples in the region, with characteristics that are specific to each community.
From the start of the Meeting, the feeling of pain for the deaths of 17 Pankararu and Atikum indigenous people in a car accident on June 1, when they were being taken by Funasa, from Recife to their villages was very strong. The driver of the vehicle and a fireman also died in the accident.
Apoinme came about from the need to set up a permanent association involving the indigenous peoples of the northeastern and eastern regions of the country and their struggles for ratification of their lands and for public policy guarantees.
Founded in 1990 with the provisional name of the East/Northeast Commission, it acquired its current name in 1995, when it was institutionalized.
Since it was created, the Association has supported land repossession, which has been the main weapon that indigenous people have used for reoccupying their lands over the last few decades.
43 indigenous peoples from nine states – Pernambuco, Alagoas, Ceará, Minas Gerais, Paraíba, Sergipe, Bahia, Espírito Santo and Rio Grande do Norte – took part in the meeting.
This is the first time that indigenous people from Rio Grande do Norte have taken part in the meeting. These are groups that were expelled from their lands, which were located in what is now Paraíba, and migrated to the neighboring state around 200 years ago.
As a result of prejudice and repression, the communities known as the Tapuia do Catu and the Mendonça do Amarelão Family had to hide their ethnic identities.
Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council – www.cimi.org.br