CIR’s 50th Anniversary Celebrates Exuberance and Resiliency

CIR gathered more than 2,000 people to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary

January 2023 - The Roraima Indigenous Council (CIR) held its 50th anniversary celebration this month. The four-day events consisted of various ceremonies and included shaman led blessings to bestow protection and purification for the ethnic regional councils. Indigenous Elders relayed historical accounts describing the hardships endured in their quest for rights. Project leaders discussed their focus on territorial management protection for biodiversity conservation and cultural preservation of the Amazon.

Approximately 2,000 representatives of Indigenous communities and partner organizations gathered near Lake Caracaranã, at the Raposa Serra do Sol Indigenous Land, in the municipality of Normandia (187 km from state capital Boa Vista). Lake Caracaranã is a sacred site that symbolizes the struggles of all peoples living in that region. The event celebrated CIR’s achievements, including the Indigenous efforts for the demarcation of their traditional territories, and discussed new pathways for the future.

CIR is one of Brazil’s largest and most established Indigenous organizations in the country. It was created in 1971, when a group of tuxauas (Indigenous leaders) held the first assembly in defense of their rights in the Surumu region. 

For us, these 50 years symbolize the resistance, resilience, and persistence of our endeavors. Hosting a gathering like this to celebrate our great achievements means, in fact, amplifying Indigenous voices to the entire world. Having such a respected and widely recognized organization as CIR is evidence of our ability to organize and speak for ourselves, and to legitimize our rights,” said CIR general coordinator Edinho Batista, who is a member of the Macuxi people and lives at the Maturuca community, at Raposa Serra do Sol.

Joênia Wapichana, President of Brazil’s National Indigenous Peoples Foundation (FUNAI), participated in the celebrations. She stated CIR faces the challenge of advancing in the management of these areas – in addition to protecting the territorial rights of all Indigenous Peoples of Roraima. “After we managed to define, protect, demarcate, and homologate our lands (as we did with Raposa Serra do Sol), we have to shift our attention to managing these areas. Against this backdrop, sustainable economic development projects are consistent with what we advocate, including protecting natural resources, recognizing the value of our best practices, and promoting sustainable management," she added. 

Joênia began her career in the legal department of CIR. Ms. Wapichana made history in Brazil, serving as the first Indigenous lawyer in promoting Indigenous Peoples’ rights in Brazil and the first Indigenous lawyer to make an oral statement at the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court helping to define the Raposa Serra do Sol Reserve boundary, in 2009. 

Joênia is the first Indigenous woman elected to the Chamber of Deputies and the first woman appointed President of FUNAI.

Empowerment – As is evident by President Waphichana, the organization embraces women and their natural leadership styles. CIR is currently creating an Indigenous Women’s Department to extend the work of the existing Secretariat General of the Indigenous Women's Movement. Women play a key role in the day-to-day of their communities and CIR leadership wants to strengthen female agency and expand to new projects and partnerships. 

“The strengthening of our role comes through our empowerment. Women have a voice, and we want to make it louder and louder," added Maria Betânia Mota de Jesus, CIR secretary general. 

Partnerships— One of the projects developed by CIR with the goal of promoting the governance and territorial and environmental management of Indigenous lands is named Bem-Viver. The project is supported by USAID/Brazil and implemented in partnership with Brazil's International Education Institute (IEB) and Nature and Culture International (NCI)

It is focused on the implementation of National Policy for Land and Environmental Management of Indigenous Lands (PNGATI), strengthening CIR institutionally and the structuring of sustainable Indigenous livestock practices, introduced by communities in the region over four decades ago.

Catherine Hamlin, director of the USAID/Brazil’s Environment Program, celebrated the event. “It's the first time I have ever been to Roraima, and I feel very inspired. It is interesting to see that, in its 50 years, CIR has become a model and a reference for traditional communities in Brazil. The U.S. government prioritizes the support we offer to traditional communities, and CIR is evidence of this,” she said.

Symbols— In addition to exchanging experiences and listening to the tuxauas stories, the even provided youth an opportunity to speak about their future as Indigenous peoples. Youth shared a bundle of sticks with the elders as a symbol of Indigenous integration in Roraima.

Over the four days, the sticks were kept in the center of the malocão—a large thatched-roof wooden building where discussions, ceremonies, and dances were held. “Our celebrations are not only about the demarcation of Raposa Serra do Sol: they relate to all of us. We started this fight, and our children will take it forward,” said Jacyr José de Souza, a member of the Macuxi people. He is one of CIR’s founders, and the first deputy coordinator in the early 1970s.

Raposa Serra do Sol is one of the largest Indigenous lands in Brazil, totaling 1.75 million hectares. Its demarcation process started over 40 years ago, and was completed through a Supreme Court decision that finally ratified the area.The territory (located on the triple border between Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana) staged several conflicts between farmers and Indigenous people. Despite demarcation, it still suffers significant pressure.

CIR represents 261 communities living in 36 Indigenous lands spread over more than 10 million hectares. The 55,000 people living in the area include Macuxi, Wapichana, Ingarikó, Patamona, Sapará, Taurepang, Wai-Wai, Yanomami, Yekuana, and Pirititi peoples. 

More information is available on the CIR website.