On Friday, April 28th, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva granted official recognition to six indigenous reservations. This was in fulfillment of the promise he made during his election campaign to give official recognition to more indigenous territories. According to the Associated Press, the six reservations that are now legally recognized by the state cover an area of approximately 800 square miles. The majority of this land is located in the Amazon forest and the indigenous people’s control over this land is seen as an important measure in the protection of the rainforest. The recognition granted means that land may not be used for agriculture, mining, or cutting down trees for profits. Non-indigenous people will not be allowed to work on the land for economic benefit.
“I won’t leave a single Indigenous territory unprotected,” President Lula said at the Free Land Camp Event. The Free Land Camp is an annual five-day event with food, music, and dance celebrating all aspects of indigenous life.
“We are going to legalize Indigenous lands. It is a process that takes a little while because it has to go through many hands,” Lula said. “I don’t want any Indigenous territory to be left without demarcation during my government. That is the commitment I made to you.”
The granting of official status by President Lula comes after former President Jair Bolsonaro publicly refused to grant more land to the indigenous people of Brazil, claiming they already owned a lot of land. This is despite the historical existence of indigenous land, with some of it considered ancestral and forming part of the Amazon. Despite the land’s importance to the fight against global warming and climate change, Bolsonaro allowed farming, mining, and logging in these territories. Brazil’s farming sector and lobby groups backed Bolsonaro during his presidency with regard to this. The six indigenous reservations mentioned above will be the first to be recognized by the state since 2016, with not a single one recognized by the Bolsonaro presidency.
Brazil is home to 300 ethnic groups that live on 730 territories that are considered ancestral, meaning they can be recognized as indigenous lands. Only 434 have been granted this status and there have been calls for more indigenous lands to be recognized as reservations.
While a lot more work needs to be done to grant more indigenous territory the recognition it needs to be protected, Kleber Karipuna, executive coordinator at Indigenous people’s organization Apib, welcomed this development by President Lula. He emphasized how it was far removed from the actions of former President Bolsonaro. “For us, it is a very significant process of restarting,” he said. “Of course, there are still other lands that can be advanced.”
Since President Lula assumed office, he has been working to reverse several of former President Bolsonaro’s policies and actions which include his anti-indigenous stance. To show his commitment to the promises he made to the indigenous people of Brazil, one of his first decisions as president was hiring Sonia Guajajara in the newly created position of Minister of Indigenous Peoples.