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A first in Brazil: Testimony of indigenous lawyer to the Supreme Court

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Your Excellency Chief Justice and your excellencies justices [statement in Wapichana language] Justices, I just said here today that we as communities of Barro, Maturuka, Jacarézinho, Tamanduá we are hoping that this decision puts an end to all of the violence that the indigenous peoples of Raposa Serra do Sol have endured throughout the dispute over their lands that our spiritual and cultural values are taken into consideration when applying the articles of the Federal Constitution of 1988 I would like to thank you for the opportunity that indigenous communities are getting, the opportunity to speak through me. I'm Wapichana, I'm also from those lands. And we would like to remind you of the whole process of the demarcation [of our borders]. And also of the importance of upholding the demarcation just as it exists, consolidated. We have lived here for over 30 years that drag on, waiting for the formal land tenure process to be concluded. During these 30 years, 21 indigenous leaders have been assassinated. Numerous houses have been burned, many threats have been made, and are made still, and registered with Federal authorities and Federal police. We are accused of being thieves in our own land, of being invaders. We are slandered, we are discriminated against. This must come to an end. It falls upon the Federal Supreme Court, this Court, to enforce what we've been hearing said for a long time: that traditional indigenous lands go well beyond mere houses. Many people do not know that indigenous lands cannot be characterized only by dwellings. They also include areas where people fish, hunt, walk, maintain sacred places, where we maintain spirituality, where our culture is maintained. This is fundamental so that we can guarantee the importance of our land not [only] for today, but for tomorrow also. We want this. Today we are living a truly historic moment in Brazil. The indigenous lands Raposa Serra do Sol are an emblematic case for the whole national territory, and they represent the voice of indigenous peoples. This is about enforcing in practice what was promised 20 years ago: our rights of origin, our right to inviolable land rights, our right to live in accordance with our customs and traditions. And so those who define indigenous land are the very indigenous people themselves. I want to remind here, Justices, that what is at play here is the 500 years of colonization. This is what is at play. As was mentioned, we have our own economy. We developed it. But this isn't even taken into account by the state of Roraima. [The state] does not mention how much circulates economically within the indigenous land. We are the greatest cattle producers, a productive activity that feeds those indigenous communities. We have our professionals who are working in land management. This is why we would like to advance through this phase. There are more than 300 indigenous schools. There are more than 5,600 students and 485 teachers. We have an economy that circulates more than $14 million [reais] annually. Why? Because we live precisely from this integration between peoples. We live off this trade, but we also even contribute to the markets of Boa Vista. But today there is no study that shows how much indigenous peoples contribute. Let us also remind you that this phase that we are going through, through the courts and trials, we've already faced it before at the Federal Court of Roraima, as many mentioned, with the lawsuit that was dismissed. But there were even court decisions that proved by way of anthropological reports, by way of studies, that Raposa Serra do Sol is without a doubt traditional indigenous land. And in 1977, when the proceedings to demarcate indigenous lands began, we went through a great conflict. But we always heard this said -- even when the process began many indigenous lands were occupied and the communities that lived there were expelled. It was not the indigenous who fenced it in. It was people who always wanted to exploit indigenous lands. And this exploitation not only impacts on our culture and on social issues, But it also finishes off our land. Just to remind you, in the middle of May IBAMA [federal environmental agency] presented a fine of over $30 million reais for the environmental impact of rice growers installed in indigenous lands. And this for only one of the farms. Today, there are six rice growers occupying that land. Of these occupiers, five have rice plantations outside the indigenous lands Raposa Serra do Sol. Just so you have an idea. And they continue with these activities. They continue to plant. Why must indigenous peoples be the only ones sacrificed? Why must only we have our land cut up? During this whole legal process, we heard much slander and discrimination. The issue of a 'threat' to national sovereignty hurts a lot. It hurts because we have heard our histories, told by our grandparents, who carried on their backs the markers that defined Brazilian territory. It hurts because there Marshall Rondon presented a sword and said, "You are Brazilian citizens, by birth. The original Brazilians." And when the Brazilian territory was defined, we were the ones who testified that that land belonged to Brazil and that we were Brazilian indigenous peoples. I would like just repeat what was said in relation to the UN Declaration. It is a Declaration which is not binding, but the very articles of the Declaration state clearly -- it wasn't just Brazil that signed, but 143 countries signed this international instrument as letter of intention -- and it states clearly that it cannot be used to turn indigenous peoples into independent peoples. We hear this every day in the papers in Roraima, in the media. There is a constant confrontation in relation to private or partial interests that the state of Roraima, or other entities, like the author [of the suit] who is a Senator of the state, try to push to the foreground, so to speak. We are here today with the legitimacy of the indigenous peoples of Caricó, Wapichana, Macuxi, Tarepangue, and Patamona who trusted me as an indigenous lawyer. Precisely so that I could present some of our feelings, Justices, a little of our reality. We are sitting here, awaiting a decision, but many indigenous communities in Roraima ask us, "What have we done to be tried today? "What crime did we commit, that our land might be cut up as a result?" I would like to wrap up now, and close with a little of the history of the decisions that were made here. I would like to read a decision made for extraordinary appeal 44585, from the decision of Justice Victor Nunes Leal, that states "We are not dealing here with rights of common property. "A sense of possession and dominion, in the civil law speak, is not in play here. "We are dealing with the habitat of a people. If the area is to be reduced by subsequent law, "and if the state reduced it by 10,000 ha "Tomorrow it would reduce it by another 10. Then 10 again. "And it could end up confining the Indians to a small plot: to the common of the village." We do not want this to happen. I will state it again. They already took from us a piece of the municipality of Normandia. They already took a piece of the municipality of Iramutã in a judgment of 2005. Piece by piece, they are taking from us. What about tomorrow? How will this end up?

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 53 seconds
Year: 2008
Country: Brazil
Views: 929
Posted by: giant_pandinha on Sep 2, 2008

For the first time in the history of the Supreme Court, an indian rises to the podium to make oral arguments. The first is also by a woman, lawyer Joênia Batista de Carvalho of the Wapichana people.

Pela primeira vez na história do Supremo, um índio sobe à tribuna para fazer uma sustentação oral. A estréia é de uma mulher: a advogada Joênia Batista de Carvalho, do povo Wapichana.

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