What is Patriotism these days for Brazil?
Indigenous lawyer and member of the Rede Sustentabilidade political party Joenia Wapichana, is the second indigenous federal deputy in Brazil’s political history, taking a seat in Roraima State for the 2019-2023 term.
In a concise interview she takes on some of the stereotypes and misconceptions attributed to her people.
Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro has compared the concept of indigenous reserves to zoos, despite the demarcation of indigenous territory being intentional on behalf of indigenous people in order to preserve their culture and protect their exemplary lifestyle.
“This is discriminatory” states Wapichana. “Does he mean that we are animals that cannot reason and do not know our rights? Indigenous territory is simply our home and our right to demarcated land but this does not revoke our rights as Brazilian citizens to come and go.”
Ex-military politician and head of the Institutional Security Office, General Augusto Heleno, has referred to indigenous territory as a threat to national sovereignty and back in 2005 was particularly opposed to the demarcation of the Serra do Sol reserve that Wapichana was instrumental in establishing. “As stated during the ruling of Serra do Sol, there is no clash of interests where indigenous territory borders national defense”, states Wachipana, leading us to assume that the general may have prejudices. Indigenous people were instrumental in establishing this border alongside national hero and also military officer Marechal Cândido Rondon (1865 - 1958); the man to have led a legendary expedition into the Amazon accompanied by Theodore Roosevelt.
Bolsonaro has stated that mineral exploration in the Raposa Serra do Sol reserve would make this the most affluent land in the world. "For indigenous peoples, affluence is when you are in good health, in ownership of land on which you can live without being under threat, preserving one’s culture and being respected as a community. If [Bolsonaro] cherishes family values so much he should be able to see the indigenous side as well.”
“Indigenous family values start with the land. People regard the extraction of minerals as income, however they never think about the prejudice, divisiveness, violence and the external influence of alcohol abuse and the loss of local culture.”
“Recent studies detected mercury contamination in the Yanomami indigenous reserve. Polluting the rivers will not only endanger indigenous communities but it will affect you too. The rivers run from indigenous territories into the cites.”
Bolsonaro believes that indigenous people are manipulated and exploited by NGOs, as if the Brazilian government were not guilty of exactly that. “We do not need NGOs or any other entity to tell us what to do because we are aware of our rights. NGOs are our partners and the Brazilian government could be too, if it only stopped hating on us.”
“Why is he so desperate to persecute indigenous people? He said he could not understand how half a dozen uneducated people who cannot speak Portuguese had more rights than Brazilian patriots; but I cannot remember his exact words. What is the cause for all this hatred? We represent tourism, traditional medicine and biodiversity in the Amazon. People need to stop seeing us as a hindrance to development. Being a lawyer is no longer a novelty. We are already studying masters and doctorates in medicine, engineering and agronomy in order to strengthen the management of our land”.
In Brazil there are those who study and excel in law, politics and industry for the betterment of indigenous livelihoods while at the same time there are those in similar positions who use the same platform as a detriment to the rights of indigenous people.
In the past week, Wapichana also fired back at Damares Alves, Minister for Women, Family and Human Rights under Jair Bolsonaro and supposed president of Atini, a charity that speaks out against indigenous infanticide. Alves is an anti-abortionist and evangelist pastor.
When does infanticide in indigenous communities even occur?
1. When a woman gives birth to two children in a short interval and the forest cannot provide for her needs e.g. twins
2. Babies with deficiencies that cannot embark on nomadic lifestyle e.g. albinos
(Volnei Garrafa, Universidade de Brasília)
The first two cases occur out of concern and fear; not cruelty or discrimination. The 3rd is based on discrimination and is a societal imperfection that cannot be accounted for by any outsider and the 4th situation plays out in both our culture and theirs. Whether or not Brazil has the technology to resolve any of these birth problems is by the by, as part of indigenous people's right to self-determination is choosing their own medicine (but also having access to orthodox healthcare when desired - for example a mother’s lifestyle and surroundings may be able to facilitate her keeping her child).
The first situation is as justified as those surrounding abortion in non-indigenous society.
Adapting to their lifestyle’s needs is important when it comes to securing their right to preserving said lifestyle. A mother from our society may choose not to abort her child given that she may have the resources to keep that child or that her environment facilitates obtaining those resources.
Politicians such as Alves and Bolsonaro utilise ocurrences like these as ammunition for their argument against the existence of indigenous societies in today's world. There are two ulterior motives behind this argument. One is an underlying prejudice of which evangelical Christianity is the vehicle. The second is the reward these politicians will recieve for clearing these indigenous territories for the onslaught of North American mining giants and/or local soy producers.
Essentially they say that if indigenous people have not got the medicine or technology to support life, then they should abandon their lifestyle and integrate within society, demonstrating total ignorance of the fact that indigenous people are entitled to modern medicine and of the existence of the modern clinics specifically designated for indigenous healthcare. The same rhetoric is delegitimising of indigenous medicine, to which modern day medicine owes its origins in the first place.
It is important to avoid hypocrisy and embrace plurality at the same time. By plurality I don’t mean I’m so accepting of other people’s cultures to the extent that I embrace everything from forced marriage to female genital mutilation. What we call infanticide however, is the equivalent of abortion with perhaps more bootleg technology. When it comes to discrimination against the child’s sex, what really matters is the fact that societal imperfections can be changed and these must be changed via education (on both sides), tolerance and coexistence.
Indeed, the real hypocrisy is in the fact that the death and/or orphanhood of indigenous babies is not majorly due to the practice of infanticide but rather the reality of the 110 murders of indigenous people - parents among them - per year at the hands of Alves’ very own government, not to mention the fact that in every 100 assassinated indigenous people, 40 are children.
Stereotypes attributed to indigenous people that regard them as barbaric trivialise the loss of a culture from which we should in fact be taking examples. It’s time for Brazil’s congress to show some humility. So ignorant is the allegedly patriotic and pro-development mentality of Brazil’s government that not even Cândido Rondon, also known as the Father of Brazilian Telecommunications, is revered by these people as the national patriot that he was. Such is polarization in Brazil that Bolsonaro’s voters’ animosity towards indigenous people fails to embrace the multiplicity of Brazil’s genetic and cultural makeup in the way that their both pro-development and military predecessors did.
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