Brazilian Indigenous activists were attacked by police while carrying 200 paper coffins to a pool near the capital as part of an annual indigenous protest over the murders of Indigenous leaders as well as land demarcation conflicts during Earth Day protests in the last week of April.
The paper coffins represented the 54 Indigenous leaders who were murdered since 2015 in Brazil and, according to the National Indigenous Federation of Brazil (APIB), the deaths came as a result of ongoing conflicts over territory.
The activists had come to the capital Brasilia to protest the deaths, recent laws that would postpone territory demarcations and against Brazilian President Michel Temer.
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The 14th annual Land Set Free Camp drew 3,000 Indigenous people from Brazil and other countries and was organized by the APIB. According to the APIB, the contingent included people from 200 different ethnicities who attended the demonstrations, meetings and celebrations from April 25-28.
Near the end of the indigenous protest, indigenous attorneys brought legal documents to various ministries but the more dramatic conflicts with authorities started on the first day of the Camp.
On April 25, after protestors marched to the pools with the paper coffins and blocked one of the roads to the Congress, Brazilian National Police launched tear gas and shot rubber bullets and pepper spray into the crowd that had reached 3,000, affecting not only men but women, children and elders in the area. Some Indigenous men fired arrows back at police during the confrontation after successfully placing the coffins in the pools.
“They represent our family members murdered by the retrograde policies of politicians who do not respect the federal constitution,” said APIB leader Sonia Guajajara about the coffins and referring to constitutional protections of Indigenous lands.
While the activists were forced away from the official buildings, they remained in the area, holding meetings and ceremonial dances.
The next day, April 26, the indigenous protest was prevented from entering the Senate for an already scheduled public meeting with government officials and legislators.
The APIB leadership did acknowledge that they had refused to go to another meeting with newly appointed Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio and Executive Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha who the APIB described as being “the two rural politicians and the principal spokesmen for measures taken against Indigenous rights by the federal government.”
Marchers went into the city of Brasilia for a peaceful march, featuring banners stating “Demarcation Now” and chants about indigenous rights.
In the following days activists involved with the indigenous protest met to discuss ways to protect their lands as well as understanding anti-indigenous legislation and to develop alliances. The APIB announced they had started to build alliances with indigenous leaders from Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia and Indonesia.
Indigenous attorneys for the APIB and the Indigenous Missionary Council met with representatives of the Supreme Federal Tribunal to deliver petitions and statements asserting the rights of the indigenous to their territory under the Brazilian Constitution.
“In regards to the STF, it is important that they make decisions that conform with the Federal Constitution of 1988. We expect nothing less from this court,” asserted Attorney Joenia Batista (Wapichana).
In their closing statement at the end of the week, the APIB summarized their approach.
“We reaffirm that we will not stand for the violence, setbacks and threats from the Brazilian government and economic oligarchies against our lives and our rights. We call on all of Brazilian society and the international community to join with the struggle of the original people for the defense of our traditional territories and Mother Nature, for the good of all life forms.”