Ecumenical Mission denounces violence and the dismantling of public policies for indigenous peoples

From 14 to 16 December, the Council of Mission among Indians (Conselho de Missão entre Povos Indígenas: COMIN), the Lutheran Foundation of Diakonia (Fundação Luterana de Diaconia: FLD), the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (Conselho Nacional de Igrejas Cristãs: CONIC) and the Indigenous Missionary Council/South (Conselho Indigenista Missionário: CIMI/Sul) held an Ecumenical Mission in Solidarity with the Kaingang and Guarani Mbya Indigenous Peoples in Rio Grande do Sul (RS).

The aim was to denounce a context of dismantling policies, the withdrawal of rights, intolerance and violence, particularly in relation to indigenous peoples who have historically been discriminated against, violated and rendered invisible by public policies.  The mission also protested against the criminalization of human rights defenders in the state, in particular in the northern region.  The initiative came from the Ecumenical Forum Act Brazil (Fórum Ecumênico ACT: FE ACT Brasil).

The programme began on 14 December in Porto Alegre (RS), with the presentation of the Civil Society Report on the Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Human Rights (ESCHRs) situation and the launching of the publications Tecendo Vidas (Weaving Lives) by COMIN and Fé, Justiça de Gênero e Incidência Pública – 500 anos da Reforma e Diaconia Transformadora (Faith, Gender Justice and Public Advocacy – 500 years of Reform and Transforming Diaconia) by the FLD.

On 15 December, the Ecumenical Mission went to the Carazinho Indigenous Lands, where 35 families live.  Until the end of 2016, the community was camped at the side of the BR 386 highway.  Although living conditions were difficult there, the location was easy to access, allowing for the sale of handcrafts, the families’ main source of income and subsistence.

Due to a series of threats and lawsuits, requesting the reintegration of the property, handled by the federal courts, the Kaingang were forced to seek another location.  The new space was located in the City Park, which covers 217 hectares, however, the Kaingang occupy only a small fraction of seven hectares.  The community is mobilized and is putting pressure on the indigenous body to conclude its preliminary studies.  As well as delays in relation to the demarcation of their territory, the Kaingang are also extremely concerned about not having access to drinking water or land for planting.

Young people, such as 16-year-old Fabiele da Rosa Claudino, who lives in Carazinho, are caught up in these struggles. “We suffer discrimination, we suffer racism, we suffer bullying.  I get sad, but then my energy returns”, she says.  “I like being indigenous.  We are what we are.  White people are different, just like we are different”.

Fabiele makes handicrafts to sell with her mother and plans to return to school. “I would like to show white people what we are like, our culture, our food, our dances.  If they knew us better, they would understand us.  I would like to show my origins to people and tell everyone that although we might be in different worlds, we are all equal”.

“Our struggle dates back to the arrival of the Europeans, who took our land, our culture, our tribal signs,” asserts the chief of the Rio dos Índios Indigenous Land, Luiz Salvador, leader of the Kaingang in the state, who participated in the meeting.  Today, the greatest enemy is something else: “we are being swallowed up by a government, by capitalism, which does not see the situation as it is today, which does not see indigenous people”.

Ivo Galles became chief in Carazinho in 2012. “We want our land”, he said, “we are not the invaders, it is the ranchers that are trespassing.  We are still here as a result of the struggles of our ancestors, and now this is our struggle.  If we did not have land, where would our children, our young people, our old people, go?”

On 16 December, the Ecumenical Mission visited the area in Maquiné repossessed by the Guarani Mbya, who live in camps on the side of highways along the coast of Rio Grande do Sul.

The location, which falls within the Guarani People’s traditional territory, was under the aegis of the Rio Grande do Sul government and served the State Foundation for Agricultural Research (Fundação Estadual de Pesquisa e Agropecuária: Fepagro), recently closed down by the RS government.

The Guarani people have demanded that the land be demarcated, however, the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio: FUNAI) has omitted to construct the working group to proceed with detailed land studies.  Currently, 18 families live in the area, they are mobilized and connected to important sectors of society in order to maintain possession of the area and fight a lawsuit to reintegrate the property, which is being processed by the Federal Courts.

“This is the first time that the Guarani people have repossessed an area here in the state”, said Chief Cirio Pires, from Lomba do Pinheiro, representative of the Guarani of RS.  “It was an autonomous repossession: no one told us to do it, no organization, no politician, the families decided and we came”.

From Maquiné the Ecumencial Mission went on to the community of Terra Capivari, an encampment that has existed on the side of the RS 040 highway in the municipality of Capivari do Sul for 45 years.  Ten families live there, without drinking water, a sewage system or housing.  The scene is of total poverty.  The entire region is one of traditional occupation; however, it was taken over by ranchers a long time ago.  The community supports itself with odd jobs and the sale of handicrafts.  Students study in an unstable space.

In 2012, FUNAI set up a Working Group to proceed with studies to identify and demarcate the land, but this work has stalled.  Ranchers and the State oppose the demarcation.  In past years, in order to prevent the demarcation of Capivari, the State of Rio Grande do Sul arranged with FUNAI to transfer the families to a small reserve within an area of wasteland called Granja Vargas.  This is a region of unproductive, sandy soil, where there are no possibilities to maintain their culture.

Why hold an Ecumenical Mission?

Since 2015, organizations have held ecumenical missions in order to stand beside threatened and criminalized communities and territories.  Two were held in Mato Grosso do Sul, with the Guarani Kaiowá, and one in Pau D´Arco (PA) in November. This participation represents the churches, ecumenical and inter-religious organizations, civil society organizations and human rights defenders.  The initiative is run by FE ACT Brasil.

The Ecumenical Mission will issue a document denouncing indigenous rights violations which will be sent to public bodies in Brazil and to international organizations.  For the Secretary General of the ACT Alliance, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, who came from Geneva and participated in the initiative, visiting indigenous communities allowed him to understand in detail the size of the current political project which is eliminating previously won rights.  “We will work according to the influence of our members and their engagement, through a joint strategy for justice and the dignity of Brazilian indigenous peoples, quilombolas and other excluded communities”.  ACT, an international organization, which has its headquarters in Switzerland, brings together 146 organizations from 125 countries (in Brazil, the member organizations are the FLD, Diaconia, Koinonia and CESE), has consultative status at the UN and will include the situations debated in Rio Grande do Sul in international forums and at the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

“It is fundamental for the ecumenical movement to become aware of the indigenous reality and strengthen denunciations about how the Brazilian government and the agricultural system are increasingly disrespecting original people’s rights to land, to their own advantage,” said CONIC General Secretary Romi Bencke.  “This is why the initiative is ecumenical in its essence – undertaking the defence of rights”.  For her, another important element is to combat the idea that “to fulfil mission” means to convert people to Christianity: “on the contrary, we want to assert religious liberty and guarantee the right of all to exercise their spirituality”.

Matters addressed during these visits must also be reflected in the risk analysis report on international crimes against Brazilian indigenous people, which will also be presented to the UN and is being drafted with participation from law lecturer Fernanda Frizzo Bragato, who took part in the visits to the communities.  She is Coordinator of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos (Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos: Unisinos), which has campuses in São Leopoldo and Porto Alegre.  Fernanda stated that the document will emphasize the violence against the Guarani Kaiowá, based on data from the Report on Violence against Indigenous Peoples, by CIMI published this year.

Photos and text: Lutheran Foundation of Diakonia (Fundação Luterana de Diaconia: FLD)

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