Deed to Indians’ Land Gets Lost on Its Way to the Brazilian President’s Desk

The last stage in the process of recognizing an indigenous land in Brazil is the official confirmation of its bounds by the Brazilian State.

For this to happen, the Minister of Justice submits the relevant administrative documents to the President of the Republic for him to sign a decree for this purpose.

The process related to the Iñawébohona land, which belongs to the Javaé and Karajá peoples and is located in the state of Tocantins, was submitted by Minister Márcio Thomaz Bastos to the President for his signature on April 18 of this year.

However, the bounds of land have not been officially confirmed so far. The process is stalled. It hasn’t reached the Office of the President of the Republic and was sent back to Funai.

The indigenous people who live in this land only became aware of these facts two days after pressuring politicians in Brasí­lia to try and understand the causes of the delay to confirm the bounds of the land, which could have been explained to them two years ago.

Since August 2, they had been pressuring for an audience with the ministries of Justice and Environment, with the National Foundation for Indigenous People (Funai), and with the Brazilian environmental agency, Ibama. Only the ministry of Environment replied, saying that matter was not under its responsibility.

Even without scheduled meetings, 20 Javaé, Xerente and Karajá leaders came to the capital of the country. In the afternoon of the 9th, they headed to the Ministry of Justice (MJ), which is located at Esplanada dos Ministérios (the square in Brasí­lia where all ministries are located), to pressure for a meeting.

They were successful in their efforts. The ministry of Justice instructed Funai to receive the group, which had a meeting with the president of the agency, Mércio Pereira Gomes. It was a surprise, since Funai senior officials have been adopting a policy of holding meetings with only very few indigenous groups.

The subject to be discussed with Funai and the ministry of Justice was the official confirmation of the bounds of the Iñawébohona land, located on the Bananal Island in the Araguaia river, state of Tocantins.

The process for the demarcation of the land was referred to the ministry on August 12, 2003, and it was supposed to analyze it, confirm it, and submit it to the President of the Republic 30 days later at the latest. If the process is not approved, it has to return it to Funai "based on a grounded arguments."

During the meeting, Gomes could not tell the indigenous what was obstructing the process of the official confirmation of the bounds of the land.

After three hours, many phone calls to the ministry of Justice and a lot of conversation, the president of the official indigenous agency admitted that the process had been returned by the ministry of Justice to Funai. But nobody at Funai knew where the documents were. The process had been "lost."

Last week, the indigenous people returned to Funai. They said they would not leave the agency without a copy of the process. After Funai officials looked for it for a long time, the process was found and they explained what nobody seemed to know: the process had been returned to Funai with a suggestion for a working group to be set up with Ibama and Funai representatives to clarify an issue raised by Ibama, which manages the Araguaia National Park created inside the indigenous land. 

The overlapping of the park on indigenous lands creates problems for the daily lives of indigenous communities, since Ibama imposes restrictions on how the area can be used.

The most recent example was the imposition of restrictions on making electricity available in some villages, preventing the construction of an artesian well.

Without electricity and the well, the Javaé people continue to drink water from a river that has been polluted by crops grown around the island. 

Funai had already expressed the opinion that the issues raised by the environmental agency should not prevent the official confirmation of the bounds of the land, because title deeds to indigenous lands are null.

However, the legal department of the ministry of Justice once again recommended the creation of the working group in April 2005. Because Funai took no measures to set up the working group and neither questioned the suggestion made by the ministry of Justice, the process remained stalled – and lost – since May without any measures being taken by neither agency.

In an effort to solve the problem, the Javaé managed to schedule a meeting to be held on Friday, August 12, with the presidents of Funai and Ibama and with representatives of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. They say they will not return to their village without making sure that concrete measures will be taken to confirm the bounds of their land.

Cimi – Indianist Missionary Council – www.cimi.org.br

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