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Murders of 2 Pataxó leaders prompt Ministry of Indigenous Peoples to launch crisis office

A member of the Pataxó community.

A member of the Pataxó community. Image by Karenalmeid via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

  • On Jan. 17, 17-year-old Nawir Brito de Jesus and 25-year-old Samuel Cristiano do Amor Divino were shot dead in Brazil’s northeastern Bahia state, according to the state’s civil police.
  • The crimes reportedly occurred when the two Indigenous leaders were returning to a resettlement farm, located within the limits of the Barra Velha Indigenous Territory, an area recognized in 2008 as being traditionally occupied by the Pataxó people but has since awaited its full demarcation.
  • The newly created Ministry of Indigenous Peoples is setting up a crisis office to monitor land conflicts in the region with the Ministry of Justice and other authorities “to guarantee the rigorous investigation and punishment of the criminals, besides, of course, the protection of the Pataxó people.”
  • Violence against Indigenous people this year is not isolated to Bahia. On Jan. 9, two Indigenous Guajajara were shot in the head in northeastern Maranhão state, near Maranwi village, close to the town of Arame, as confirmed by the state’s civil police.

The escalation of violence in Brazil’s northeastern region with the murders of two young Pataxó Indigenous leaders this week triggered the newly created Ministry of Indigenous Peoples to set up a crisis office to monitor land conflicts in the region.

On Jan. 17, 17-year-old Nawir Brito de Jesus and 25-year-old Samuel Cristiano do Amor Divino were shot dead in the district of São João do Monte, between the towns of Itabela and Itamaraju, in Bahia state, according to the state’s civil police.

“It is unacceptable that Indigenous people continue to be persecuted and threatened within their own territories. This crime cannot go unpunished,” Minister of Indigenous Peoples Sonia Guajajara said in a news release. She said the ministry will work with the Ministry of Justice and other entities, including the country’s Indigenous affairs agency, Funai, the Federal Public Ministry and authorities in Bahia “to guarantee the rigorous investigation and punishment of the criminals, besides, of course, the protection of the Pataxó people.”

The crimes occurred when the two Indigenous leaders were returning on a motorcycle to the Condessa farm, a resettlement established earlier in the month amid ownership disputes in the region, the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), an advocacy group affiliated with the Catholic Church, said in a news release. The rural property, CIMI said, is located within the limits of the Barra Velha Indigenous Territory, an area recognized in 2008 as being traditionally occupied by the Pataxó people but has awaited full demarcation since then.

17-year-old Nawir Brito de Jesus and 25-year-old Samuel Cristiano do Amor Divino were shot dead on Jan. 17 in the district of São João do Monte, Bahia state, according to the state’s civil police. Image courtesy of social media reproduction via CIMI.

In September, Gustavo Silva da Conceição, a 14-year-old Pataxó boy, was killed and another Pataxó boy, aged 16, was wounded in the arm by gunfire reportedly by gunmen as group of Indigenous Pataxó sought to retake land within the Comexatibá Indigenous Territory, also in Bahia’s southern region.

Conflicts in the area have intensified since June 2022, when 180 Pataxó members retook another area in the same region of the Comexatibá reserve that was being used for cattle ranching and growing pulpwood trees, even though the farm falls entirely within the reserve’s borders.

In that same month, another group of around 100 Pataxó took over a different farm, largely abandoned pasture, in the neighboring Barra Velha do Monte Pascoal Indigenous Territory and were allegedly expelled at gunpoint by landowners and their supporters.

In a news release, Bahia’s secretary of public safety, Marcelo Werner, said “it was immediately determined the priority in the investigation,” with civil police teams going on site to conduct investigations in search of the perpetrators of the crime and the Military Police reinforcing the task force teams in the region.

According to Patrícia Pataxó, the state’s superintendent of policies for Indigenous peoples, the state management is seeking articulation with the federal government, which is responsible for the demarcation of Indigenous territories. “We have been at the forefront, since last year, with the creation of the task force. We have been in the area listening to the communities and making ourselves available to the leaders. And now, we are drawing up plans to manage this conflict,” she said in a news release.

In a statement, the Federal Public Ministry in Bahia said it is investigating the actions of an armed group against the Indigenous community through a previously opened procedure. It added that it has requested information from the government of Bahia and the Ministry of Justice about what measures have been or will be adopted to safeguard the integrity of the communities living in the Barra Velha Indigenous Territory. The Federal Police in Bahia did not respond to Mongabay’s requests for comment.

Violence against Indigenous people this year is not isolated to Bahia. On Jan. 9, two Indigenous Guajajara were shot in the head in northeastern Maranhão state, near Maranwi village, located close to the town of Arame, as confirmed by the state’s civil police in an emailed statement.

The civil police said the two attempted murders are being investigated by the police station in the town of Arame and accompanied by the Federal Police. It added that it has already heard statements from witnesses and family members of the victims who “are still in a serious condition in the ICU of the Municipal Hospital of Grajaú.” So far, no one has been arrested.

The Federal Police said the case is being investigated by the civil police. The Federal Public Ministry in Maranhão did not respond to Mongabay’s requests for comment.

On Sep. 3, 2022, unknown perpetrators reportedly ran over Jael Carlos Miranda Guajajara (left), in a vehicle and killed him in the municipality of Aramein the northeastern state of Maranhão. The following day, unknown gunmen reportedly opened fire on a group of Indigenous Pataxó people as they sought to retake land within the Comexatibá Indigenous Territory, in Bahia. Gustavo Silva da Conceição (right), a 14-year-old Pataxó boy, was killed in the incident by gunfire. Images courtesy of Guajajara people via CIMI (left) and Personal archive via CIMI (right).

In September 2022, Maranhão was the stage of three murders and one attempted murder of Guajajara Indigenous. Unknown perpetrators reportedly ran over Jael Carlos Miranda Guajajara, 34, in a vehicle and killed him in Arame; gunmen also shot dead Antônio Cafeteiro Silva Guajajara. In the municipality of Amarante, Janildo Oliveira Guajajara was shot and killed by unknown assailants in an apparent ambush, where the perpetrators also shot and injured a 14-year-old Guajajara boy.

Over the past 20 years, more than 50 Guajajara individuals have been killed in Maranhão, with none of the alleged perpetrators ever going on trial, according to CIMI.

Banner image: A member of the Pataxó community. Image by Karenalmeid via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Karla Mendes is a staff contributing editor for Mongabay in Brazil. Find her on Twitter: @karlamendes

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