Bolsonaro draws battle lines in fight over Amazon indigenous lands

first_imgParintins, site of Brazil’s big annual indigenous festival, is typical of towns in the Brazilian Amazon. The Sateré, and other indigenous groups living or working there, often endure discrimination and work analogous to slavery. Civil rights are few and indigenous populations inhabit the bottom rung of the economic ladder.Now more than ever, indigenous groups fear the loss of their cultural heritage and land rights as guaranteed under the 1988 Brazilian Constitution. New president Jair Bolsonaro wants to achieve indigenous societal “assimilation,” a process by which an ethnic minority group’s traditional way of life and livelihoods is erased.The strongest advocates of indigenous assimilation are the ruralistas, rural wealthy elites and agribusiness producers, who have the most to gain via access to the timber, land and mineral wealth found within indigenous territories. The bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby is strong in Congress, and it supports Bolsonaro.The Sateré, along with other indigenous groups, have endured a long history marked by extermination and exploitation. Brazil’s 900,000 indigenous people are increasingly joining together to fight the anti-indigenous policies proposed by the Bolsonaro administration and supported by the ruralists. Benito Miquiles, a Sateré man. Image by Matheus ManfrediniIn February, a Mongabay reporting team travelled to the Brazilian Amazon, spending time with the remote Sateré-Mawé, documenting their culture and long-time conflict with mining companies and land grabbers. This series looks at new threats imposed on the Sateré and indigenous groups across Brazil as they’re threatened by the ruralist-friendly policies of President Jair Bolsonaro. The trip was funded by the Amazon Rainforest Journalism Fund in association with the Pulitzer Center and Mongabay.PARINTINS, BRAZIL – On the banks of the Amazon River, in the Parintins municipal district of Amazonas state, Benito Miquiles, a young Sateré indigenous man watches boats come and go. Francesa, the port where he stands, is located in a small bay where the district’s untreated sewage flows into the river. It’s also here that boats travelling to and from the state’s interior stop to unload, with Indians and fisherfolk hefting heavy bags of manioc flour, copaíba oil and guarana, then forced to walk down a narrow 15-foot-long plank and on into town to sell their wares.Benito, who accompanied and guided the Mongabay reporting team throughout its trip, knows better than most the happenings, sounds and smells of Francesa. He lived here, out in the open, slinging his hammock among the boats, for two years while studying for a college degree in Parintins. Now age 25, he recently earned a diploma in intercultural indigenous studies from the Federal University of Amazonas.“It was a big achievement,” the young Sateré-Mawé acknowledges.Benito is proud to be Sateré, but people in Parintins frequently comment that he doesn’t look like a “real Indian.” His hair is stylishly coiffed, he owns a smart phone, takes “selfies” and wears a cap and sunglasses, but for Benito indigenous identity is something that comes from inside himself, irrespective of what he is wearing: “I was born Sateré, I grew up Sateré, and wherever I go I am Sateré. I can use a coat and tie, trainers, smart clothes, but I will always be Sateré.”last_img

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