Javari delegation

Javari delegation to the Struggle for Life mobilization in Brazil with national Indigenous leader Sônia Guajajara.

Photo Credit: Cristina Alejandra/CIMI.

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September 29, 2021

Javari Delegation Joins ‘Struggle for Life’ Mobilization in Brazil

John Reid

The Brazilian Indigenous movement launched its Struggle for Life mobilization in Brasília on August 22, 2021. Six thousand people from 176 tribes streamed into the capital from throughout the country. They came in a show of force to oppose a bill (PL 490) that would undercut Indigenous land rights, and to witness a crucial decision in Brazil’s Supreme Court.

Just ten of those six thousand people were from the Javari Valley. Compared to past Indigenous gatherings in Brasília, ten from the Javari—comprised of Kanamary, Matis, Marubo, and Matsés (Mayoruna) cultures—was a big group. Sometimes no one is able to go. That’s because their territory is separated from the federal seat of power by thousands of miles of jungle and savanna. The area is still ecologically intact and provides a safe home for a dozen groups of uncontacted people, in part because it’s so hard to get to, as there are no roads. For someone in a village in this territory, it takes a multi-day boat ride and a couple long, expensive flights from the nearest city to take part in an event such as the Struggle for Life.

The Union of Indigenous Peoples of the Javari Valley (UNIVAJA) decided a substantial delegation needed to make this trip because of the gravity of the matter before the Supreme Court. It is the so-called “marco temporal,” which roughly translates as the “timeline.” It’s a reinterpretation of Brazil’s 1988 constitution, which restored civilian rule after 20 years of dictatorship. Article 231 says:

"Indians shall have their social organization, customs, languages, beliefs, and traditions recognized, as well as their original rights to the lands they traditionally occupy, it being incumbent upon the Union to demarcate them, protect and ensure respect for all of their property."
Struggle for Life participants listen to oral argument by Indigenous lawyer Ivo Macuxi outside the Supreme Court.

Struggle for Life participants listen to oral argument by Indigenous lawyer Ivo Macuxi outside the Supreme Court.

Photo Credit: Gilberto Marubo.

The “timeline” theory says that to be covered by this article, traditionally occupied lands had to be occupied on the date of the Constitution’s approval, October 5, 1988. In the decades (and centuries) leading up to that date, tribes all over Brazil had been forcibly removed from their lands by government forces, farmers, and companies. Endorsement of the timeline theory would thwart hundreds of Indigenous territories still in the process of creation and open many already formalized to reversal.

UNIVAJA Coordinator Paulo Marubo, leading the delegation, declared, “The Struggle for Life should be everyone’s struggle…we have to think of the next generation. My uncontacted relatives in the forest, where our history lives, need every tree for their survival…On behalf of all forest peoples, we Indigenous Peoples cannot live without Mother Earth. That’s why we’re here, and we’ll fight for every last tree and river.”

Gabriela Marubo from the western Javari with other Indigenous women at the Struggle for Life.

Gabriela Marubo from the western Javari with other Indigenous women at the Struggle for Life.

Photo Credit: Beto Marubo.

Javari delegation with Indigenous congresswoman Joênia Wapishana.

Javari delegation with Indigenous congresswoman Joênia Wapishana (5th from left).

Photo Credit: Cristina Alejandra/CIMI.

Twenty-two-year-old Francisca Kanamary got her first taste of the national Indigenous movement, with its throngs marching, camping, and congregating around a stage and jumbotron in the center of the city. “The experience showed me what I really want to do, which is to be part of the Indigenous movement, to carry the name of my Javari to faraway places and defend my land with tooth and nail!” she said.

Bushe Matis noted that the Javari delegation brings a special perspective because they share territory with the world’s largest concentration of isolated peoples. “It’s important for us, young people from the Javari, to be here getting to know other peoples and learning from their struggles. And we’ll be going back to our villages, telling our elders and youth what we saw and heard so that our people can understand the big picture of the struggle of Indigenous peoples in Brazil.”

The Javari presence at the Struggle for Life mobilization was supported by world-renowned photographer and activist Sebastião Salgado and Nia Tero.

As we write, the Supreme Court verdict is still pending. To stay up-to-date, please visit our partners UNIVAJA, APIB, and COIAB.