Brazil’s Potiguara and Tumbalalí¡ Indians Protest Against Demarcation Delay

Earlier this month, two indigenous peoples from the Brazilian Northeast were mobilized to sort out delays in the demarcation of their lands. These delays involve the interests of both public and private companies. 

On June 6, 200 members of the Potiguara people carried out an act in João Pessoa, Paraí­ba, to show their indignation with the failure to legalize the Monte Mor and Jacaré de São Domingos lands, which depend on court decisions for their demarcation processes to be concluded.

On the same day, the leader of the Tumbalalá people, Cí­cero Marinheiro, met in Brasí­lia with the National Foundation for Indigenous People to find out why the anthropological study of their land, which was delivered to Funai eight months ago, had still not been submitted for publication by this organization.

It was necessary for the chief to travel from Bahia to Brasí­lia for the Funai General Boundary Identification and Demarcation Coordinator, Nadja Bindá, to forward her evaluation of the report, which had been ready since February, to the anthropologist responsible for the study. Funai considered it necessary to "incorporate data" into the report.

According to Cí­cero Marinheiro, the delay in forwarding the evaluation of the report, which was delivered to Funai in October 2004, is related to the interests that the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (Chesf) has in constructing dams in the River São Francisco. Chesf is the Federal Government company with the largest electrical power generating capacity in the country.

The Tumbalalá, who live on the banks of the River São Francisco, in Bahia, have been fighting for the rights to their land for years. In 2003, Funai, after opposing acceptance of the group as indigenous, set up a group to identify their land.

Nowadays, around 450 squatters live there, many of which are farmers who were affected by the dams that were installed in farming villages by Chesf. This is the public company responsible for building the dams on the river, which have altered the Indians’ food production system.

Potiguara

The deadlock in the Potiguara land demarcation process, however, involves the interests of private companies. Ratification of the Jacaré de São Domingos land is being legally challenged by the companies Rio Vermelho Agropastoril Mercantil AS and Destilaria Miriri, who allege that the ratification decree damages the legal action related to land ownership, which is being processed by the Federal Trial Court, in João Pessoa.

The case started to be voted by the Federal Supreme Court in October 2005, but the minister Gilmar Mauro asked to see the process, and it has not returned to the agenda, since then.

After the public act, the Potiguara took part in a Public Hearing at the State of Paraí­ba Legislative Assembly. The Assembly’s Human Rights Committee has promised to get in touch with the president of the Federal Supreme Court (STF), minister Ellen Gracie, to ask for the case of the Jacaré de São Domingos land to be urgently returned to the agenda.

"This is a very rich, very productive land, and it is obvious that nobody wants to give it up just like that, but it is our land, our right, and even the president of the National Foundation for Indigenous People has said that our claim is legitimate", José Cirí­aco, known as Captain Potiguara, explained to a regional paper.

Xakriabá Resist

The 35 Xakriabá families who repossessed part of their traditional territory at the start of May remain camped without a reply to their demands. Funai has still not commented on the situation, but the community has actioned the Courts to ask Funai to continue with the process of demarcating this land, which has been paralyzed since 2005.

The Morro Vermelho land, as the occupied area is known, is close to the municipality of São João das Missões, in Minas Gerais. No incidents have yet occurred involving the squatters who occupy the area of around 1,000 hectares claimed by the Xakriabá.

Even so, the families are facing difficulties such as shortages of food and water. In spite of the problems, the group is optimistic about the perspectives of remaining on the land.

This area has had a preliminary report, indicating demarcation of the traditional land, which was rejected by Funai in 2005, using the argument that there had been no traditional presence in the area.

The anthropologist Marcos Paulo Schettino, author of the study, guarantees that Funai’s argument is baseless. He has also even sent a reply to the arguments presented by Funai to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, but Funai has not yet commented on this.

Indianist Missionary Council – www.cimi.org.br

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