Indigenous Rights: Photographic Exhibition portrays 33 years of Indigenous history in Brazil
The exhibition has been set up in the external space of the Museum of the Republic just 500 metres from the National Congress buildings, where parliamentarians are discussing projects designed to weaken and detract from indigenous peoples’ conquests. The exhibition displays pictures of historical moments that took place in the last 33 years during which time the indigenous peoples emerged from their former invisibility to fix themselves for ever in the social imaginary and on the agenda of contemporary Brazil. The high point of that process was the Chapter on Indigenous Rights firmly embedded in the Brazilian Constitution of 1998.
The exhibition has been jointly organised by the Socio-environmental Institute (Instituto Socioambiental - ISA) and the Norwegian Embassy. Since 1983, Norway has been promoting international cooperation to support Indigenous peoples and Brazil was among the first countries to receive funding from the Norwegian project under the aegis of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169. This is one of the main international mechanisms designed to protect Indigenous rights and Norway was the first country to ratify the Convention in 1990. Brazil ratified it in 2002.
Indigenous peoples and the Amazon
Around 33 million people inhabit the Amazon biome and roughly 2.7 million of them (9.2% of the population) are indigenous people, belonging to 350 different ethnic groups, 60 of which live in voluntary isolation.
The complex Amazon biome extends over parts of nine countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela and French Guyana - with an area of 6.7 million hectares embracing various types of ecosystem and dense tropical forests, as well as sheltering 10% of all known species on the planet.
Indigenous lands account for 27% of the biome and play a vital role in the preservation of the indigenous peoples and their cultures as well as being highly important spaces for ecological processes, the supply of ecosystem services and biological diversity.
Deforestation rates are very low in indigenous lands. In the period from 2004 to 2014, only 2.2% of indigenous lands had been affected by deforestation according to data of the Infoamazonía y Tierra organisation.
“Indigenous lands have a fundamental role for the conservation of the Amazon natural resources and as spaces for guaranteeing the "lifestyles" of its inhabitants. In these lands, indigenous peoples have your pantry, your hospital, your school, but above all they have in these spaces their history, their culture and spirituality”, stated Tarsicio Granizo, Protected Areas and Indigenous Lands Strategy leader for WWF Living Amazon Initiative
The expansion of the economic frontier into the Amazonian areas has been the main threat to the biome’s ecological social and cultural integrity. Mining, highway and hydroelectric infrastructure works, illegal, predatory exploitation of natural resources and invasion of protected areas and indigenous lands are the most powerful threats.
In 1993, Dario Vitorio Kopenawa was just 10 years old when the Yanomami indigenous reserve in the state of Roraima was invaded and 16 indigenous people were assassinated by artisanal miners. The episode became known as the Haximu massacre.
Today, looking at a photograph of his father, indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa, on display in the exhibition, Dario declared emotionally, “They killed our children, women and men. We were sickened by it. It has stuck in our memory and will remain there forever. The authorities took no legal action to bring those miners to trial. 20 years have passed and they are still free”, he protests.
An undergraduate student in the course on Indigenous Territorial Management at the Federal University of Roraima, Dario refers to the importance of those studies. “We have intimate knowledge of the reality of the forest, the rivers, the biodiversity and the sacred places in it. We need to learn the language of the non-Indians to help to strengthen our resistance. This photo exhibition helps us to reveal our struggle to the Brazilian population”, he concluded.
(With information from Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) and Norway Embassy in Brazil)