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Chief Raoni and 300 indigenous people brought the President of the brazilian Chamber to his knees after the historic irruption in the plenary of the Congress - photo O Globo

The Indigenous April (Abril Indigena) gathering which is held in Brasilia from April 15 to April 19 2013, took the turn of a mini-revolution on Tuesday 16 of March when nearly 300 indigenous people, including Chief Raoni, invaded  the Chamber Of Deputies in Congress in the middle of the parliamentary debate. The event shook those in power in Brazil, who,  up to this point, had turned a deaf ear to the demands of the native people on their own lands. A working group,  including parliamentarians and indigenous leaders, was created urgently. On the 18th of April, Chief Raoni was to meet President Dilma Rousseff for the first time, with 9 other indigenous representatives, but the visit did not take place. The Head of the Brazilian state, whose palace also became the scene of demonstrations on the day of the meeting, seized the pretext of a last-minute reunion to fly to Venezuela. 


2013, an Indian Spring ?

As an impressive gathering of about 600 leaders descending from the ethnic diversity of the indigenous peoples of Brazil, the Indigenous April (Abril Indigena) planted the seeds of an « indian spring » when, on Tuesday 16th of April 2013 around 10:30am half of them, while singing and dancing, seized the plenary  room of the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia, in the midst of the debates. This peaceful protest, which needs to be qualified as historic, provoked a true panic reaction  among the deputies whose rout was the subject of much talk. With drums, clubs, sticks and spears in their hands, the indigenous people stated that they would not leave until the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Henrique Eduardo Alves had heard them. The ordinary session was interrupted... 

"Indigenous April"

This is the greatest annual event organized in Brazil by the indigenous movements, "Indigenous April" denounces the government's rapidly increasing deterioration of respect for native peoples' rights. This nation-wide mobilization called for by the native and indigenous organizations, aims each year during the month of April, to realize debates, seminaries, activities and protests in different regions of Brazil, to assure the continuity of the Camp « Free Earth », put up on the Ministry's Esplanade in Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil.

In three years, "Indigenous April" has produced documents and resolutions which relate to the key subjects of the indigenous movement demands, which are :

- the regularization of the indigenous lands, 

- distinguished health and education,

- the sustainable management of native lands,

- the threats on the constitutional rights of native peoples,

- the preservation of the cultural heritage of these peoples.

This annual meeting allows indigenous peoples to strongly, and therefore audibly, question those in power in Brazil and in particular to tarnish the ideal image of former president Lula's political work, which was left without a cloud in the picture. The indigenous populations of Brazil were indeed the ones who have experienced the main collateral damage. 'Indigenous April', in a structured manner, exposes the foundations of their resistance to a colonization project which, to this day, remains disguised as neo-liberalism that supports violence, the concentration of the lands and the wealth, discrimination towards those who are different, and works mainly on restraining the constitutionally guaranteed rights of native peoples, after so many years of fighting*.

The 2013 edition of Indigenous April was held in a tense atmosphere due to the offensive of the bancada ruralista, a parliamentary front which acts in defense of the interests of the expansionist rural landlords.  This was held at the national Congress, due to the exceptional measures set up by the presidency of the Republic. These measures included propositions of constitutional changes concerning the right to land, publication of an order allowing the use of the national Force against the communities opposed to the construction of great undertakings or structures, such as great dams, due to an unprecedented mobilization of the population to support the Guarani-Kaiowa people, recently threatened of being evicted from their own lands.

The 600 Brazilian indigenous representatives present, came to participate in Brasilia in the " Indian week", this being the highlight of Indigenous April. They did not come to celebrate a date dedicated to them (the 19th of April is decreed as National Day Of The Indian, in Brazil) but to show the country and the world that they are resisting and very much alive, beyond the folklore and museums which celebrate their art.    "From our recent national meetings, during which we have prepared letters to the authorities, no improvement has sprung, nothing has moved. We even think things have become worse. We live while mourning for our losses. It is time to give priority to the true fight for land. Without her, we are nothing. The money proposed to us here and there is not a substitution, it brings division. In the war we must lead, we must laugh, not cry. From now on, we are not at war with each other and we know who our enemies are."**


PEC 215 : Fruitless negotiations

It is therefore in the context of this "Indigenous April" that the main Brazilian indigenous leaders, with the great Chief Raoni leading all, went to the National Congress in the morning of Tuesday 16th of April, to participate in the meeting of the Parliamentary Front of Support to Native People. Nearly 300 indigenous people were present when the failure of an attempt to negotiate     with the president of the Chamber of Deputies, Mr. Henrique Alves, sparked things off. The main subject of debate was the declaration of the creation of a commission whose purpose is to analyze the PEC 215 law proposal, which suggests an amendment to the constitution which would transfer the power of decision on indigenous lands to the National Congress, allowing the review of demarcated and already accredited lands. It would certainly also bring to an end, due to the pressure of industrialists and financiers, any possibility of a new accreditation or demarcation. This strategy  is reminiscent to the one adopted by the United States during the 18th and 19th centuries and which led to the humanitarian and cultural tragedies we know of against the Native Americans.

The lands of the Xingu could directly be affected on a very short term by this law, notably the territory of Chief Raoni, who seized the opportunity of coming to Brasilia to share his view on the situation : « we are totally opposed to this hidden invasion of our lands. We are its first inhabitants. The white man is giving us orders, we do not like this. We need to be respected. » Another law that jeopardizes the native peoples is the PEC 237 which allows the concession of indigenous lands to rural producers.      


Chief Raoni : "the white man does not respect us, he is killing us".

Microphone in his hand, Chief Raoni asked for the dismissal of this commission. « President, you must talk with your parliamentarians so they respect the native peoples. The PEC 215 is causing problems for indigenous peoples. I will never accept deforestation in the indigenous lands, nor mineral exploration in our territories. The great hydroelectric dams (…) The white man does not respect us ; he is killing us. We must prepare a document and give it to the president Dilma [so that] she respects us ». 


Terrorized by the unannounced indigenous leaders storming in, the deputies ran away  seeking refuge on a platform

Due to the failure of this negotiation, the 300 indigenous people present started a peaceful protest and began performing their traditional songs and dances in front of the cameras of the leading Brazilian media. As always in native protests, they went, dancing, towards the Green Salon , which precedes the Chamber of Deputies, which was then in the middle of its session. But instead of returning towards the exit, they next, to general surprise and in an historic action, started to threaten to penetrate into the closed grounds of the Chamber Of Deputies. Although reinforced, security did not manage to stop the pressure of 300 driven Indians, who suddenly rushed into the plenary, triggering panic amongst the elected representatives, of which an important number ran away, visibly terrorized by the dances and songs !

In an article published by the CIMI (Conselho Indigenista Missionário : Indigenous Missionary Council), the journalist Elaine Tavares analyzes the deputies' reaction : "The scene played by the deputies would be laughable if it didn't clearly show what they think of the Indians. The « suits and ties » rushed, desperate, when they saw a small group of indigenous people doing ritual native dances move forward in the alley of the plenary. For them, these men and women are nothing more than savages, dangerous and threatening. They do not see them as Brazilian citizens, equal to them in terms of rights and duties. The deputies rushed, why ? Out of fear ? And why should they be afraid ? Because they very well know what they are doing and how they treat native peoples in this country."


The "honorable" departure of the humiliated deputies

Armed with their drums, sticks and spears, the indigenous people stated they would not exit the plenary until the President of the Chamber, Henrique Eduardo Alves (PMDB-RN), had listened to them. The ordinary session was stopped. Around 7pm, most of them agreed to exit the room while the main leaders themselves led by Chief Raoni, were brought together around  Henrique Alves. Cacique Raoni : « President, you must talk with the parliamentarians and ask them to respect the indigenous peoples. The PEC is a pain to all of us. »

At the end of this meeting, it was announced that there would be a postponement of the PEC 215 vote, planned this semester, the suspension of the creation of the special commission, enabling the examination of the validity of this amendment proposed to the Constitution (PEC) and the creation of a joint work group between deputies and indigenous leaders to discuss subjects of interest to the native peoples. This victory was celebrated by the indigenous people in the Green Salon, but from now on they simply want this law to be forgotten about.


Dances and drums have brought the power to its knees : official anouncment of the creation of a commission consisting of parliamentarians and indigenous leaders

The day after this demonstration, the president of the Chamber, Henrique Alves, publicly confirmed the creation of this work group and committed himself to assure the first discussions were about the proposition of amendment to the Constitution (PEC 215). Alves also, as promised in front of the cameras the day before, officially suspended the setting up of the special committee in charge of examining the PIEC during the first semester of this year.


The college created by Alves is composed of ten parliamentarians and representatives of the native communities. It will be coordinated by the deputy Lincoln Portela (PR-MG) and its members will be Chico Alencar (PSOL-RJ), Ronaldo Caiado (DEM-GO), Sarney Fils (PV-MA), le père Tom (PT-RO), Bernardo Santana de Vasconcellos (PR-MG), Domingos Dutra (PT-MA), Edio Lopes (PMDB-RR), Moreira Mendes (PSD-RO) et Ricardo Tripoli (PSDB-SP).

Hope has sprung during this Indigenous April that could, much sooner than we think, become the founding act of an "Indian Spring".

*Source : "AJI" Ação de Jovens Indígenas de Dourados ; ** Source : Brasil de Fato - Renato Santana de Luziânia (GO)


- by Gert-Peter Bruch & Lunna Lima / translation by Alice Dageville (thank you to Lizzie Cornish)  -







Photos : FlickR - brasildefato1

Date : 18/04/2013