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Recognition and survival: products of a regulatory compliance initiative for indigenous associations in the Brazilian Amazon

“After many years, celebrating this agreement is a moment of great joy for all at the association.” They may seem simple, but these words have greater significance in the Vale do Javari, in the Amazon.  They were spoken by Manoel Chorimpa, President of the Community Development Association of the Marubo People of Alto do Rio Curuca (Associação de Desenvolvimento Comunitário do Povo Marubo do Alto do Rio Curuca: ASDEC). The organization was founded in 2003, but has had a lot of difficulties, until recently.

ASDEC hadn’t been able to access external funds – such as grant funding – since 2007, when it began having problems declaring its income tax to the Federal Revenue Service (Receita Federal). The situation only changed in 2021, when the group participated in the initiative of Institutional Strengthening for Indigenous Associations, run by CESE in partnership with the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira: COIAB).

The aim is to achieve regulatory compliance for original peoples’ associations in COIAB’s grassroots bases, through help running assemblies, updating constitutions, registering minutes at notary offices, and paying debts to the Federal Revenue Service.  “It was a time to use this opportunity to resolve all our pending issues,” Manoel said. Since then, ASDEC has run five projects – three with support from CESE.

ASDEC is located in the city of Atalaia do Norte, within the Vale do Javari Indigenous Land, the second largest in the country.  Located in the west of the Amazon, at the triple border between Brazil, Colombia and Peru, it has specific characteristics, from both a circulation and communication point of view. The Aldeias Conectadas (Connected Villages) project, which the association ran in 2022, focused on the latter.

The project allowed for the purchase of basic connectivity equipment for the association’s office and a television, which was installed in the old FUNAI (National Indian Foundation – Fundação Nacional do Índio) building, located in the village of Maronal.  This has provided access to teaching materials via the internet and better quality links, so that more association members can participate in meetings.

The group is currently running another project supported by CESE, which focuses on combatting religious fundamentalism.  “Today we have four funding channels working with us.  We have prospects, from 2023, to have a number of direct funds for the associations.  All of this gives us immeasurable satisfaction.  Principally, because of the sensitive attention paid by CESE and COAIB.”

Manoel’s words came in the midst of the meeting “The Amazon for All Struggles: Rights and Spiritualties for Good Living”, hosted in Manaus between 8 and 10 November by CESE, COIAB and the Podáali Fund (Fundo Podáali).  The meeting was supported by the Institute for Climate and Society (Instituto Clima e Sociedade: ICS) and the Ford Foundation. The first two days focused on evaluating what has worked well and what could be improved for the initiative with indigenous associations.

 

Strategic Action and Recognition in the Community

The initiative has been operating since 2019, in a partnership between CESE and COIAB, and has already supported 72 associations which have received legal assistance, participated in training and had projects supported, all aimed at full legal compliance.  In all, 36 of these organizations are now fully compliant, have accessed projects and are setting up networks to benefit their communities.

After four years of struggle alongside the Department of Public Prosecutions (Ministério Público), the Association of Indigenous Women of the Arapiun People (Associação de Mulheres Indígenas do Povo Arapiun: ARAPIUN) has managed to bring high school education to the Aldeia Esperança, in the rural zone of Santarém, in Pará.

The Association of Indigenous Women of Rio Negro (Associação das Mulheres Indígenas do Rio Negro: AMIARN) was founded in 2009 and achieved legal compliance in 2020.  Since then, the association has managed to construct its offices – including a library where the women can tell their stories and record their knowledge, which is mostly oral – and run training sessions about indigenous movement polices and for income generation.

The Coalition of Indigenous Peoples of Tocantins (Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Tocantins: ARPIT) was founded in 2015, but only completed its compliance process in 2022.  Today it has representatives working on several state councils – such as those for the Environment, Indigenous Education, Health and Culture – where they can put forward discussions, such as a specific public examination for indigenous teachers, climate change and other issues.

Access to funds is not the only triumph these associations have achieved within this initiative.  The recognition and prestige that the associations have gained within their communities is another extremely important factor and result. Maria Divanira de Sousa Medeiros, ARAPIUN President, explained how her association’s experience is being used as an example to help other associations complete the compliance process.

 

“We have joined forces with other villages. We are helping an association in a neighbouring village with their compliance process, based on ours –  our work at the notary’s office, finding a lawyer, an accountant.”  Beyond this, she emphasized that, despite being formed of nine women, ARAPIUN fights for everyone. “In Education, in Health. It is the association that manages our village,” she concluded.

 

 

Elizângela Baré, AMIARN Coordinator, explained that today the association is considered a reference point within the territory. “Since the training, we have managed to take certain public policies into the villages through coordination and mobilization – such as maternity benefits, registrations, pensions, preparation for Individual Taxpayer Registration (Cadastro de Pessoa Física: CPF).We have reached the entire territory, not only the 55 women in the association.

 

 

“After we started our association’s compliance process, we saw that, without this, we didn’t have the means to survive, we didn’t have power. We held a great celebration with our community and the members are really motivated.  We have groups of trained young people who want to occupy leadership roles within the association,” Manoel Chorimpa noted.

 

 

 

Vanicleisson Karajá, ARPIT’s Executive Secretary, noted that the coalition’s grassroots associations are also now seeking to improve their organization. “The main thing is seeing that these grassroots bodies are also getting organized. The Apinajé people, which is made up of more than 50 villages, sought to register themselves as a legal entity. Even though ARPIT works at state level, it needs these grassroots organizations.  We are following COIAB’s example.”

 

Evaluation: what went well and what could be improved

The first two days of the meeting were set aside to evaluate five specific points regarding the institutional strengthening initiative as a whole: the training sessions, legal advice, preparation and running projects, and results.  The groups shared their observations about what went well and what could be improved in each aspect.  In general, the feeling was that this is an ongoing process, but also one that can be offered to new groups.

Connectivity issues in specific regions have had a negative impact on the groups’ progress during virtual activities. For this reason, in-person meetings are preferred.  The involvement of the lawyer Paulo Pankararu throughout the legal advice process was one positive highlight, but there is a need to find accountants who work closer to the actual experiences of original peoples.

Vinicius Benites Alves, CESE’s Projects and Training Advisor, highlighted the power of the networking undertaken by some of the associations.  “Some organizations were great at mobilizing support from the Department of Public Prosecutions, the Departments of the Environment.  As well as achieving compliance, others also obtained funds, so that other organizations can become compliant. This was really successful.”

 

COIAB’s Vice Coordinator, Alcebias Constantino, talked about the importance of participation of the leaders at the event.  “Participation by our grassroots leaders, so that we can continue to strengthen the organizations politically, institutionally and for their autonomy. I’m really happy about the results we planned and constructed jointly” he confirmed.

 

COIAB’s former Executive Coordinator, Nara Baré attended the second day of the evaluation and talked about the importance of dreaming and making the most of opportunities. “Often, what we need, as indigenous women, men, young people and leaders, is an opportunity.  When we thought about the Podáali Fund, we thought about it helping organizations to access its funds in the future. That future has arrived.”