Lula Recognizes Indigenous Lands
Earlier this month, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva granted official recognition to six indigenous lands, primarily located in the Amazon. The act marked the first demarcation of indigenous lands since 2018, following the departure of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who had promised not to grant “one more inch” of land to indigenous peoples and called instead for rapid industrial development in the Amazon.
The move is a partial delivery on Lula’s pledge to indigenous supporters and environmentally-minded voters and is one of many efforts underway by the current administration to protect critical, biodiverse territories from exploitation.
The newly recognized territories, which cover over 1,536,500 acres of land and are home to around 4,000 indigenous people, are Arara do Rio Amônia in the state of Acre, home of the Arara people; Uneiuxi in the state of Amazon, home of the Maku Nadib people; Avá-Canoeiro in the state of Goiás, home of the Avá-Canoeiro people; Kariri-Xocó in the state of Alagoas, home of the Kariri-Xokó people; Tremembé da Barra do Mundaú in the state of Ceará, home of the Tremembé people; and Rio dos Índios in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, home of the Kaingang people.
While the demarcated land remains under the jurisdiction of the federal government, indigenous peoples now have the legal right to use it for traditional purposes. Furthermore, under the land’s new status, mining activities are prohibited, commercial farming and logging requires special authorization, and all non-indigenous people are now banned from engaging in any economic activity on indigenous lands.
Given Brazil’s long history of conflict over indigenous lands, it may come as a surprise that indigenous territories are some of the most highly protected areas in the country. Between 1990 and 2020, already or nearly demarcated indigenous lands lost only 1% of their native vegetation while, in private areas, the percentage of deforestation reached almost 20.6%.
These territories not only hold cultural significance for indigenous populations, but are sites for environmental conservation as well. By acting as reliable and effective carbon sinks, they play a significant role in mitigating climate change.
It is unsurprising, then, that a rise in illegal deforestation and mining in Amazonian indigenous lands between 2013 and 2021 corresponded with the emission of 96 million tons of carbon—over half of which occurred between 2019 and 2021, during the Bolsonaro administration.
Currently, Brazil contains a total of 733 Indigenous territories, of which 496 are now recognized by the state while the remaining territories are in different stages of the demarcation process. However, despite the steps being taken by the Lula administration, nearly 10% of the formally demarcated lands are still not properly protected and continue to be affected by lang grabbing and illegal resource extraction.
It is evident, then, that while demarcation is central to the defense of indigenous peoples and their traditions, the state must uphold its promise through not only legislation, but ongoing action as well. For now, the future seems bright, with Lula promising to demarcate the most amount of land possible during his term in office.
My name is Clara Rabbani and I am a student at the University of Chicago, majoring in Anthropology with a minor in Environmental Studies. During my time with Latina Republic, I worked as an Environmental Writer with a focus on Brazil. My stories were primarily centered on activism, indigenous life, current environmental crises and innovations, and national NGOs. The conservation of nature and native biodiversity, as well as the preservation of indigenous voices have been major themes in my work. Working as a Latin American Correspondent has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Bringing attention to such urgent environmental topics has really informed my own understanding of our current social systems and governments and influenced the path I want to follow professionally. As I pursue my studies in the fields of Anthropology and Environmental Studies, I hope to continue building on the many skills I have developed in my time with Latina Republic. I truly appreciate the work the organization is doing as a platform for students to explore a variety of relevant themes while developing their own writing and voice.