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Indigenous protestors march towards the Supreme Court building in Brasilia

Indigenous protestors march towards the Supreme Court building in Brasilia, on August 25, 2021. (Photo: Carls De Souza/AFP via Getty Images)

Massive Indigenous Protests in Brazil Ahead of Landmark Ruling on Land Rights

"The fate of Brazil's Indigenous peoples is entwined with the fate of our world."

Andrea Germanos

Indigenous groups from across Brazil have been protesting this week ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision determining the fate of Indigenous lands in the country and which allies fear could unleash "devastating consequences" for human and environmental rights.

The court said Thursday that the ruling would come next week.

"The Bolsonaro government wants to do away with us. If it was up to [President Jair Bolsonaro] there would be no Indigenous people left in Brazil," said Xukuru chieftain Ricardo, one of the approximately 6,000 protesters outside the high court in Brasilia Wednesday, reported Agence France-Presse.

The ongoing demonstrations are part of the Luta pela Vida (Struggle for Life) mobilization, which has brought together some 170 peoples and elicited international attention and global solidarity actions. The Struggle for Life actions are organized by the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) and target the Bolsonaro government's "anti-Indigenous agenda" including the so-called Time Limit (or Marco Temporal) proposal before the Brazilian Supreme Court.

Calling it the "Time Limit Trick," APIB previously framed the Marco Temporal as "a pseudo-legal interpretative framework developed by political sectors—such as the agribusiness lobby—which seek to limit Indigenous land rights in order to enable the economic exploitation of Indigenous territories."

Al Jazeera reported Wednesday:

The top court in Brasilia is set to decide whether to recognize Indigenous rights to land occupied prior to 1988 when Brazil's constitution was ratified, a legal cut-off date sought by Brazilian state governments that are seeking to limit Indigenous claims.

Indigenous peoples and rights groups argue applying the 1988 date erases Indigenous claims across Brazil dating back to the 1950s when they were pushed from their lands by tobacco farms, miners and logging operations...

The case arises from a claim by the Xokleng people of southern Brazil against the Santa Catarina state government which the Xokleng say applied an overly narrow interpretation of Indigenous rights by only recognizing tribal lands occupied in 1988.

At issue in the case before the court, though, is more than land itself. "It is sacred, our history, our life," 23-year-old Pi Surui from the 7 de Setembro village in the state of Rondoni told the Associated Press.

"Protest organizers say the court's decision could be 'the ruling of the century,'" AP noted, "because negating the 1988 benchmark would force judges across the country to impose that understanding on similar pending cases, and also affect the fate of a related, controversial bill advancing in Congress."

In a joint statement with APIB marking the launch of the Struggle for Life demonstrations, Progressive International accused Bolsonaro of encouraging "invasions of Indigenous lands" and supporting bills that threaten territorial rights and could green light "land grabs."

"The dispossession of Brazil's Indigenous peoples goes hand in hand with the deforestation of their lands to serve the profits of the settlers that displace them," the groups said, pointing to record high deforestation under Bolsonaro's presidency.

The statement added:

Our struggle, then, is for all life across the planet. The death of the Amazon and other Brazilian unique biomes, such as the Cerrado and Pantanal, will not only impact its frontline communities; in the accelerating collapse of our climate, the extinction of the rainforest will endanger ecosystems everywhere. In this way, the fate of Brazil's Indigenous peoples is entwined with the fate of our world.

That is why we are mobilizing to Brasília: to try to stop Bolsonaro, to defend the Amazon and the other Brazilian biomes, and to stand with its peoples. Our struggle takes as its target all governments that are complicit in Bolsonaro's campaign of genocide, all corporations that seek to profit from it. And in doing so, it calls on citizens around the world: the fight against Bolsonaro extends far beyond the borders of Brazil.

The Indigenous groups also drew support this week from Francisco Cali Tzay, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

In a Monday statement, he urged the court to uphold their rights, which "originate from the very fact that they are the original inhabitants, and lived on these lands long before Europeans came to Brazil."

The consequences of the court's decision, Tzay added, will reverberate widely.

"If the Supreme Court accepts the so-called Marco Temporal ('time frame' argument) in its ruling on land demarcation," he warned "it could legitimize violence against Indigenous peoples and inflame conflicts in the Amazon rainforest and other areas."

“The court’s decision will not only determine the future of these issues in Brazil for years to come," said Tzay, but "will also signal whether the country intends to live up to its international human rights obligations and whether it will respect Indigenous communities who were not allowed to participate in legal proceedings that revoked their land rights."

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