Since its founding in 1960, Brasília has drawn Indigenous leaders and activists looking to bring their grievances and requests to the country’s center of power.Some, like Beto Marubo, who successfully pushed for health supplies and support for his Amazonian community during the COVID-19 pandemic, say they have better chances of achieving their goals by being in the capital.Another prominent figure is Joenia Wapichana, the first Indigenous woman elected to Congress, who has made it her mission to thwart the anti-Indigenous agenda of President Jair Bolsonaro.But many of the Indigenous people who live there say it doesn’t feel like home, with frequent incidents of prejudice and violence; Īrémirí Tukano, who has a degree in events and is now studying tourism, says he’s only passing through to learn the knowledge of the non-Indigenous and take it back to his people. BRASÍLIA — In April 1997, Brazil’s capital was the site of the brutal murder of an Indigenous leader. Galdino Jesus dos Santos, 44, was in Brasília for demonstrations demanding the demarcation of the territory of his Pataxó-Hã-Hã-Hãe people, in northeastern Bahia state. On the night of April 20, having been locked out of his boarding house after a late meeting, he slept at a bus stop. Five young men from well-off families saw him there alone. They doused him in gasoline and set him on fire. Galdino died hours later in hospital with burns to 95% of his body. It was a “joke,” his assailants would later tell police. A federal judge agreed, clearing four of them of murder charges and sentencing the fifth, 17 at the time, to three years in juvenile detention on the lesser charge of bodily harm. Two of the assailants were the sons of judges themselves. Twenty-four years later, Indigenous people living in Brasília still report prejudice and violence against them. Born in an Indigenous village in Amazonas state, Īrémirí Tukano says he experienced countless episodes of violence and discrimination since moving to Brasília 13 years ago. But one in particular hurt him deeply, he says. It was in 2012, and he was working as an intern at the Ministry of Culture. “I was delivering a document and a public servant asked me if I was Indigenous. I said yes. And he said: ‘What are you doing here? You should go back to the bush. You have nothing to do here,’” Īrémirí Tukano recalls. “That hurt me a lot. I never forgot. I don’t want my children to feel the way I did.” Born in an Indigenous village in Amazonas state, Īrémirí Tukano says he experienced countless episodes of violence and discrimination since moving to Brasília 13 years ago. He has a degree in events and is now studying tourism but says he only feels “truly included” in the city during the Free Land Camp event, the largest Indigenous gathering in the country. Image by Fellipe Neiva for Mongabay. Īrémirí Tukano has a degree in events from the Federal Institute of Brasília (IFB) and now studies tourism at the University of Brasília (UnB), and says he only feels “truly included” in the city during the Free Land Camp event, the largest Indigenous gathering in the country. It brings together Indigenous groups from all over Brazil and takes place every April — the same event that Galdino had participated in before his death. Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, the event has been moved online. The Tukano people, who call themselves Ye’pâ-masa or Daséa, are the most numerous ethnic group in the Eastern Tukano linguistic family — about 4,600 individuals — in northern Amazonas state. The history of contact between the Tukano and non-Indigenous dates to the 18th century, tied to massive incursions by the Portuguese colonizers in search of slaves. At the end of the 19th century, Franciscan and Salesian missionaries forcibly removed their children to be educated in schools or boarding schools, where they were taught to reject their parents’ values and ways of life, encouraged to marry within their own groups, and forbidden to speak the languages that gave them multiple, interconnected identities. Īrémirí Tukano’s struggle for the recognition of his Indigenous identity is a common one for Indigenous people living in urban areas throughout Brazil. Brasília was built in the 1960s to replace Rio de Janeiro as Brazil’s capital. Its location in the country’s central region featured almost no urban life, but was instead home to Indigenous groups, says UnB anthropologist Thais Nogueira. Many Indigenous people flocked here to work on the construction of Brasília, a project aimed at bringing development to the country’s interior. But the role of Indigenous people and quilombolas — descendants of Afro-Brazilian runaway slaves — in building the country’s new capital was practically erased from official history.