Organizational compliance and statutes updated: positive outcome of CESE project in partnership with COIAB for Institutional Strengthening of Indigenous Organizations

Graphic facilitation prepared by Ingrid Silveira, from MiráDesign.

“It not only helped us with documents, it encouraged us, as an association, not to give up.” These were the words of Alcimara Karipuna about the project ‘Institutional Strengthening of Indigenous Organizations from the Legal Amazon’, run by the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) in partnership with the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira: COIAB).

On 21 June, it was the turn of the beneficiary organizations to evaluate the fruits harvested throughout the initiative. On 26 May, CESE’s partner institutions within the project began their evaluation meetings.  These institutions are: Podáali – the Indigenous Fund for the Brazilian Amazon (Podáali – Fundo Indígena da Amazônia Brasileira) and Human Rights Advocacy (DH Advocacia).  The project is also supported by the Ford Foundation and the Institute for Climate and Society (Instituto Clima e Sociedade: ICS).

During the meeting, in the midst of similar statements, Alcimara pointed out that, prior to the project, the organization’s basket – the metaphor used in training to measure the associations’ knowledge and capacities – was empty.  But no longer. “Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, it is almost full! We have managed to do so many activities to strengthen the associations within our territory.  It is one more incentive for us to fill this basket until it overflows.  To go to the fight, not to let go of anybody’s hand.”

This was just one of the statements made during the virtual meeting.  In all, representatives from approximately 20 organizations participated in the sharing session. Luiz Tseremeywa was returning from the Rise for the Earth camp in Brasilia, but took advantage of a stop on the highway to enter the meeting and tell the news to his kinfolk.

“We are in the legal compliance period and other companions are waiting for us near the city’s notary’s office.  Thanks to your efforts, this week, our association will be up and running and will compete for three other grants that are being offered to us.  This is why I was so eager to return from Brasilia today,” he said, happily.

Kamutaja Silva Ãwa explained that her association had lots of questions about several of the procedures addressed during the project training. “We were trying to ensure compliance without knowing how: we ended up running two assemblies, we tried to change the statute, but we were doing things randomly.  So I am immensely thankful for the support.  I hope the project will continue with other associations.  It’s very important for indigenous people to have legal and political training”.

Registering virtual assemblies with the notary’s office was one of the difficulties faced by organizations during the pandemic.  Cleiton Jiahui, a young indigenous man, drew attention to the need for all organizations to be willing to adapt to new times.  For him, the project came at a crucial time. “We have to adapt to live with this new normal.  In the indigenous movement, we never imagined we would be fighting through a screen. Yes to demarcation of the screen, screen demarcation now and land demarcation always!” he chanted.


The project

The project is aimed at strengthening indigenous organizations, particularly local COIAB bases, so that they can sign contracts, receive and directly and autonomously manage funds for the territorial and environmental management of their lands.  So far, 54 organizations and 26 COIAB operational bases have been supported in 69 indigenous lands.

These organizations are tackling various problems, which may be financial in nature – they hold assemblies but are unable to register minutes at the notary’s office because of a lack of funds – or sometimes they are unable to access grant funding because, for example, they are not compliant with accounting and legal regulations.  The project provides legal advice, runs training sessions and offers support to projects.

Sônia Mota, CESE’s Executive Director noted that, beyond the joy of these positive expressions about the project, is the joy of seeing it provide concrete results.  “This is what we want: qualified organizations, so they can access funds.  It is so good to see the fruits of seeds sown well through collective efforts”.

Mara Vanessa Fonseca Dutra, who was part of the project’s coordination team from its outset up to January 2021, noted that strengthening an organization is a continuous act. “Compliance is one step and an ongoing one. But from the words we’ve heard today, we can see that this partnership between CESE and COIAB has taken off and has really strengthened the associations so that, more and more, they can follow their own pathways”.

Mara Vanessa Fonseca Dutra, Project Coordinator from project outset until January 2021

For her part, Maria Auxiliadora Cordeiro da Silva, COIAB Projects Manager, said that the fact that the associations have already achieved compliance and are accessing funds is fantastic. “And I would like to say this as a way to strengthen others, an incentive.  Everyone is able to accelerate this process, we will accelerate, because we are seeing the results of this!” she declared.

Maria Auxiliadora Cordeiro da Silva, COIAB Projects Manager