Project seeks to strengthen environmental and territorial management of indigenous communities in Amazonian states

USAID/Brazil and CTI partnership covering 10 indigenous lands will be implemented by 2022

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazilian indigenous lands have adopted social isolation measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus among this most vulnerable population. Yet, these communities in the Brazilian Amazon remain exposed to a series of risks, including threats related to the use of their land for illegal activities (mining and land-grabbing); interferences in how communities are organized; and even acts of violence against their leaders. In light of this, it has been a challenge for indigenous groups to find ways to consolidate continuous actions focused on community building and organizational strengthening. 

It was in this spirit of engaging local communities in sustainable management processes that ten indigenous lands in the states of Maranhão and Tocantins have been included in the Integrated Environmental and Territorial Management in Eastern Amazon Indigenous Lands project, supported by the PCAB (Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity). Among other initiatives, the project envisages the creation of a fund to support micro and small projects with a view to promoting well-being and local productive activities. The call for proposals, due to expire in early May, has been extended until July 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Created in 2019 through a cooperation agreement between USAID/Brazil and the Indigenist Work Center (CTI), the project will be implemented by 2022. It also includes the Society, Population and Nature Institute (ISPN), the Wyty-Catë organization, the Maranhão Indigenous Organizations Network (COAPIMA), and the Maranhão Indigenous Women Network (AMIMA). “We want to develop a leadership capacity building process to provide communities with the tools they need to strengthen the environmental and sustainable management of their own territories,” says Guta Assirati, CTI Project Coordinator, who leads on Monitoring and Evaluation.

Several local indigenous groups will benefit from the initiative, including the Apinajé, the Kanela Apanyekrá, the Kanela Ramkokamekrá, the Gavião Parkatejê, the Gavião Pykopjê, the Krahô, the Krinkatí, the Ka'apor, the Awá and the Guajajara, who have the largest number of residents of all (7,158), according to data made available by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). 

The state of Maranhão is currently home to 11 indigenous communities, concentrated in the mid-western region, where two distinct language trees can be found: Tupi and Jê. Maranhão is the state with the fifth largest number of indigenous areas in Brazil, according to a survey released in April by the IBGE, after Amazonas, Roraima, Pará and Mato Grosso. In total, there are 7,103 of these areas in the country.

“We are using this time, while activities are on-hold due to the pandemic, to strengthen CTI's communication processes, have remote talks with several leaders and share information with them,” adds Guta.

First results - Before suspending field activities, as a result of the pandemic, the project managed to complete the Diagnosis of Environmental Liabilities at the Kraholândia and Apinajé indigenous lands. It also supported the 5th Assembly Meeting of the Maranhão Indigenous Organizations Network (COAPIMA), and the IV Meeting of Maranhão Indigenous Women (AMIMA), in early March.

During the Assembly, the organizations reaffirmed the importance of strengthening indigenous autonomy, valuing their cultures and their environmental and territorial management processes based on local economies. The AMIMA meeting, in turn, engaged women of all age groups from the southern, mid-western and northern regions of Maranhão in important discussions on the current situation and action strategies for indigenous women to uphold their peoples' rights.

In order to strengthen communities' surveillance of their own territories, the project is also training indigenous leaders in the Estreito region (on the border with Tocantins) to develop socio-environmental impact evaluation actions. In the future, the study may guide residents on how to implement improvements and direct their investments to improve their environmental management.