Trained provided by CESE and COIAB discusses political participation, memory, communication and violence, with indigenous women

 Art: Ingrid Silveira


A past full of struggles that cannot be forgotten, constantly disputed narratives, advocacy and the struggle for rights.  The fight for life! Memory, communication, political participation and violence, these are all phenomena that profoundly affect the lives of indigenous peoples from the Brazilian Amazon.  On 25 and 26 April, more than 20 indigenous women came together to exchange their experiences of these issues.

The meeting “Female Warriors and Guardians: strengthening indigenous women from the Amazon,” which was run by CESE, in partnership with the Coordination of Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coordenação das Organizações Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira: COIAB), was attended by indigenous women from 24 organizations, as well as 10 communicators from COIAB’s Network of Young Communicators.  The initiative was supported by the Institute for Climate and Society (Instituto Clima e Sociedade: ICS) and the Ford Foundation.

Debates on the theme of political participation were inspired by reports from Nara Baré, COIAB’s Executive Coordinator and O’e Kayapó, Coordinator of the Union of Indigenous Women of the Brazilian Amazon (União das Mulheres Indígenas da Amazônia Brasileira: UMIAB). Judite Kari Guajajara, lawyer for the Association of Indigenous Women of Maranhão (Associação das Mulheres Indígenas do Maranhão: AMIMA) and Braulina Baniwa, from the National Coalition of Ancestral Indigenous Warrior Women (Articulação Nacional das Mulheres Indígenas Guerreiras da Ancestralidade: ANMIGA) talked about violence. Alana Manchineri, an organizer for COIAB’s Network of Young Indigenous Communicators, and Claudia Ferraz, from the Wanano people and representing the Wayuri Network, led debates about communication and memory.

O’e talked about how, little by little, the number of women occupying decision-making arenas is growing.  She herself is an example of this: as well as being a UMIAB Coordinator she is the chief of her community. O’e noted that there are 6 female chiefs in Kayapó lands, but made a point of stressing how these women still face sexist barriers within these arenas.

“We know that being in these arenas isn’t easy.  Most of the participants are men and they hold a position.  We have to remain firm in the face of this.  To resist for our ideas, given certain decisions we disagree with.  We are not there to compete with the men, but rather to help, complementing them with our needs,” she declared.

She added that today there are female representatives in other arenas – at state and national level. “This has inspired other women. We know that there are many women from the grassroots who don’t know these representatives, what positions they hold, what they do. Many don’t have access to a telephone, the internet.  We need to spread the word within the territories.”

Nara Baré stressed that talking to a group of women about the arenas women have managed to occupy today – something that wasn’t possible in the past – is a sign of empowerment.  “This is why we need more and more organizations of women, political ones, that defend rights, from different sectors, be that female artisans, students, singers or dancers.  And also from the coalitions, or even from the women’s departments within the organizations that exist in our regions.”

But she made a point of reminding the group that the history that is beginning to bear fruit today is not the romantic one that so-called “official” books want to describe. “Our history has been romanticized for us, but not by us, and it is one of massacres.  Of resistance.  Our society is sexist, as has been noted here.  We need to take this idea to every region, to every people.  To ask ‘where am I in this picture, at this precise moment?’”

There are more than 40 young indigenous people in COIAB’s Network of Young Indigenous Communicators, dedicated to strengthening communications in COIAB’s grassroots organizations and providing support to protect and access rights.  The network utilizes a range of communications materials (podcasts, video animations, booklets, etc.) which, in some cases, are translated into indigenous people’s mother tongues.

“When we talk, it is our story, told by us. Non-indigenous people will no longer tell our story, since there are people here who can tell their stories themselves,” declared Alana Manchineri, network organizer.  The work of these young people plays an important role in the trenches of disputed narratives that permeate the lives of the peoples of the forest.

The Wayuri Network is another organization fighting in these trenches. It emerged in order to further strengthen communications for the indigenous people of Rio Negro, taking the most important information to kinfolk and providing time and a voice to young people and indigenous women.  The network has a radio programme in its offices in São Gabriel da Cachoeira (in the state of Amazonas), where discussions focus on the main problems that threaten indigenous people in the current political situation.

One of the network’s strategies is to provide communications in the mother tongue of the indigenous peoples from the communities around Rio Negro.  Both networks work to combat fake news. Claudia Ferraz describes how, during the pandemic, there was significant internal concern about disinformation related to vaccines, which mobilized the network to undertake a huge range of activities.

“We wrote newsletters and booklets in local languages, messages for broadcast from public announcement cars, in both the town and the communities themselves.  The concern was, and continues to be, significant. Today, we carry on underlining the importance of vaccination, the importance of care,” she explained. She also noted that fake news has been the focus of training within the network.

Judite Kari Guajajara and Braulina Baniwa talked about their research and work on the theme of violence against indigenous women; how this is being addressed within the indigenous movement; examples of how to deal with the topic in conflict situations within the villages; what domestic violence within an Indigenous Land is; its relationship with the Maria da Penha (Domestic Violence) Law and with the anti-punitivist movement; the importance of and care required when raising this problem; violence against women vs cultural traditions.

The idea of including female communicators as participants in the meeting was intended to bring them closer to female leaders, so that they can further examine and give visibility to the history of indigenous women’s political action in their villages and territories, and within the indigenous movement, in a more comprehensive way.