While many people are praising Brazil for hosting the inaugural World Indigenous Games, things are not always what they seem.
In October at a Green Bag Lunch hosted by our friends at Amazon Watch and CIEL, Lindomar Terena, a Terena indigenous leader from Brazil, warned us not to be fooled by what seems as Brazil embracing and celebrating indigenous cultures. At the time, he was organizing a campaign to boycott the games and shed light on the damaging policies against indigenous peoples and systematic killings of earth rights defenders in Brazil. Lindomar is pictures above with Gloria Ushigua and Alicia Cahuiya, Ecuadorian indgenous earth righst defenders who recently came to D.C. for a hearing in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Brazil is one of the most dangerous countries to be an indigenous earth rights defender. In fact, according to Global Witness, Brazil leads the list of countries with the highest number of activists murdered for defending the environment and land rights in 2014.
At the games, a month after Lindomar’s remarks, Brazilian indigenous peoples did not stay silent about their concerns.
The games, which featured over 2000 participants from 30 countries, included events such as in canoeing, archery, and dancing, as well as a fashion show and a parade called “international indigenous beauty.”
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was booed at the opening ceremony on October 21st, and did not attend the closing ceremony events.
Lindomar Terena and the other demonstrators are specifically protesting a land demarcation proposal that, if passed, would be catastrophic for Brazil’s indigenous peoples. The law would put the power to delineate indigenous territory into the hands of Brazil’s legislative branch. The same legal arm controlled by Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby.
The protest didn’t end there. On Wednesday, about 100 demonstrators rushed the sporting arena and took control of the announcer’s microphone. “When we were here at the games, they were there in Congress plotting to steal our lands," Nerube Werreria from the Karaja nation in Brazil yelled. "Soon, there will be no more indigenous peoples, no more forest, no more animals.”
Werreria was referring to the fact that a committee in the Chamber of Deputies approved the proposal for that law late on Tuesday. Though it has to pass through the lower house and Senate, and then be signed by the President to become law, it does not seem like a coincidence that the law started moving through the government when all eyes were on the Indigenous Games.
The next World Indigenous Game are to be held in Canada in 2017. While showcasing and celebrating indigenous culture is important and valuable, these events should not be used to whitewash the injustices and violations that continue to happen in indigenous communities, not just in Brazil, but all over the world.