According to the census carried out by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) in 2000, the indigenous population of Manaus, capital of Brazil's northern state of Amazon, consists of around 7,000 people, spread over the four zones of the city.
These Indians have come from different municipalities in Amazonas and other states, and live in the outskirts where there is no basic sanitation, health posts, schools, security or other basic services. To survive, many families produce and sell handicrafts, the men carry out odd jobs and the women work as maids.
To get a better understanding of this situation and, based on concrete data, formulate public policy proposals, the indigenous organizations in the city of Manaus, together with the Indigenous People's Ministry of the Archdiocese of Manaus (Piama) and the Indianist Missionary Council (CIMI), are attempting to get the support of IBGE to map out the urban indigenous population.
"We want to know where they live, how they are living and what their most urgent needs are", explained Ana Delia Oliveira, from Piama.
These data will start being gathered in the next few days, starting with a training workshop for all those that are going to work on collecting the information, with methodological advice provided by IBGE technicians.
The census will be carried out by the indigenous people themselves, with close monitoring by members of the Indigenous People's Ministry. IBGE will also provide information on where the indigenous people are located.
One of the targets of this project is to show the government institutions, firstly, that there is a significant number of indigenous people living in the city and, secondly, that the Federal Constitution guarantees them differential treatment, which the governments, especially at the state and municipal levels, are not applying.
The first attempt to meet this target involved the meeting of the leaders of indigenous people's organizations in the city and the Indigenous People's Ministry with the mayor of Manaus, Serafim Corrêa.
This meeting took place on April 19, 2005, when the indigenous people explained their difficulties and their needs. The mayor, in turn, determined that his departments were to meet the organizations' requirements wherever possible.
The city labor department set up a handicraft fair, which has been taking place in a square in the city, once a month since February 2006, and which has helped the indigenous people to increase their income. However, as far as health and education are concerned, the difficulties continue.
"Manaus, show your indigenous face", was the theme of the 1st Assembly of the Indigenous People of Manaus, promoted by the Union of the Indigenous Peoples of Manaus – UPIM, with the support of the Indigenous People's Ministry of the Archdiocese of Manaus and Cimi North I, on 3 and 4 April, in the Rector's auditorium at the University of the State of Amazonas – UEA.
Over 200 indigenous members from several different peoples took part in the event which finished with a demonstration in the center of the city.
"One of the most serious problems that the indigenous people in the city have to face is, without doubt, the health service. When they go to hospitals or health posts and identify themselves as indigenous people, they are sent to Funai, which isn't even the institution responsible for providing the indigenous people with health services. As well as suffering from discrimination, incorrect information provided by public servants collaborates to make the lives of the indigenous people who live in the urban region even more precarious", said Ana Delia Oliveira, of the Indigenous People's Ministry.