Indigenous peoples in Roraima celebrate 50th anniversary of rights defense movement

This year should have started with traditional festivals for the Indigenous peoples of Roraima State. January 2021 was the jubilee of the first official Assembly of their chiefs (tuxauas) who gathered to defend their rights and to create the Roraima Indigenous Council (CIR).

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic heavily affecting Amazon populations, the Indigenous community had to change their plans. The festivals were canceled, but they are still determined to celebrate the anniversary, an important milestone.

“It will be an opportunity to reflect on the history of our organization, and how it was developed. We are going to have a celebration in the spirit of maintaining the resistance and unity of all Indigenous peoples. It is also time to look towards the future, and think about where we will be in 50 years' time,” summarizes CIR general coordinator, Edinho Batista de Souza, of the Macuxi people. Ongoing pressures over Indigenous Lands in Roraima range from illegal mining, illegal logging, invasions to land grabbing.

Raposa Serra do Sol is a 1.7 million hectares Indigenous Land with a population of 26,000 Indigenous belonging to five different peoples: Macuxi, Wapichana, Patamona, Sapará e Ingarikó. CIR estimates that gold miners working illegally have doubled in the past year. In addition to raising concerns about the effects of mercury contamination on local flora and fauna, gold mining threatens the way of life for local communities. 

In this scenario, Souza highlights the importance of the “Bem Viver” project that promotes the wellbeing of indigenous peoples in the state of Roraima. Bem Viver was developed under the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB) and is implemented by the International Education Institute of Brazil (IEB), Nature and Culture International (NCI), and CIR. It aims to enhance territorial and environmental management and governance in Indigenous Lands. 

In addition to implementing the National Policy for Territorial and Environmental. Management of Indigenous Land (PNGATI), Bem Viver also helps to strengthen CIR institutionally and supports the structuring of a sustainable livestock value chain, introduced to the Indigenous communities over four decades ago. 

“We are fighting to keep the rights we have conquered and to ensure our access to public policies,” concludes Souza.

In order to try to control illegal activity in the Indigenous Lands, surveillance posts have been set up, which also have been working as a sanitary cordon against COVID-19. CIR also created a task force to deliver food baskets and hygiene products to villages, to prevent Indigenous people from having to travel to nearby towns.

Youth – Apart from paying tribute to the leaders who helped found CIR, the entity's 50th anniversary celebrations will also focus on Indigenous youth from the 10 groups living in 35 Indigenous Lands. “We want this year’s celebrations to be contextualized so that our youth understand our struggle and cherish our history," says Souza.

CIR will also continue to support the Indigenous Youth Center, currently under the responsibility of Alcebias Mota Constantino, of the Sapará people. Alcebias is the son of pajé Mariana Mota, of the Saparás (a pajé is a healer and a spiritual healer), and Alcides Constantino, of the Macuxi people. Mariana and Alcides are elders to be honored during the celebrations. 

The list of honors includes Jacir de Souza Macuxi, Nelino Galé, Valdir Tobias, Terencio Macuxi, Orlando Pereira, Tedir Macuxi and Lavínia Macuxi, of the Macuxi people; and Clóvis Ambrósio, of the Wapichanas.

One of the highlights will be the commemoration of the life of Gabriel Macuxi, a tuxaua. When Gabriel was still young in the early 1960s, he brought together local communities in councils and started facing local problems, like invasions and damage by the consumption of alcoholic beverages brought by illegal miners.