- Trying to consolidate their leading role in the fight for territory and political prominence, around 8,000 Indigenous women occupied Brasília during the III March of Indigenous Women.
- Aware of the role of Indigenous peoples in preserving biodiversity, the meeting was scheduled to discuss climate emergencies and the importance of Indigenous women’s participation in the U.N. Climate Conference, to be held in Belém, in northern Brazil, in 2025.
- Amid debates in Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court, the demarcation of Indigenous territories was brought to the top of the list of urgent issues at this year’s march.
“Our voice is a political voice,” says Samela Sateré Mawé, communicator of the National Articulation of Indigenous Women Warriors of Ancestry (ANMIGA) and Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB). To the sound of traditional musical instruments, songs and prayers, around 8,000 Indigenous women from the six Brazilian biomes took part in the III March of Indigenous Women Sept. 11-13 in the Brazilian capital, Brasília. Side by side, international guests from Indigenous groups from Latin America, the United States, Russia, Malaysia, Uganda, New Zealand, Finland and other places also participated.
The march aimed to strengthen political action and the occupation of representative spaces by Indigenous women, and also to initiate dialogues for the creation of public policies for Indigenous peoples inside and outside their territories, meeting specific demands of their realities. “We need to echo our voices so that our bodies-territory are present in all spaces and places of decision-making and power,” says Daniele Guajajara, communicator at ANMIGA.
The first March of Indigenous Women in 2019, and its second edition in 2021, together with the creation of ANMIGA, boosted the empowerment and protagonism of Indigenous women in the fight for the rights of original peoples, leading to the emergence of numerous organizations or departments in historical entities of the Indigenous movement to represent them, reaching more than 90 organizations present in all Brazilian biomes.
In 2022, they further advanced female Indigenous representation in politics by supporting 17 candidacies for federal and state deputy positions. “We witnessed the historic victory of our women, Sonia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá, who are today representing us in the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and in the Chamber of Deputies,” highlight the coordinators of ANMIGA.
Now, during the third march, they staged another historic moment by filing a bill to Combat Violence against Indigenous Women. Congresswoman Célia Xakriabá’s initiative is the first bill written in two Indigenous languages – Akwen and Guarani.
An act of resistance in which hierarchies and dichotomies are broken, the marches become a political movement and a space for the creation of decolonial practices that challenge society’s narratives, offering new perspectives. “Women from various fronts who come together to believe that it is possible to build and bring our voice and our struggle to politics from our local and external reality, outside our territory,” highlights Puyr Tembé, state secretary for Indigenous peoples of Pará, co-founder of ANMIGA and organizer of the Indigenous Women’s Marches.
‘The fight for mother Earth is the mother of all fights’
For Joenia Wapichana, the first Indigenous woman in the Brazilian Parliament (elected congresswoman in 2018) and current president of the National Foundation of Indigenous Peoples (Funai), the motto of the first March of Indigenous Women — “Territory: our body, our spirit” — was very strong, as it represented the true feeling of the Indigenous people in relation to the land.
“We don’t separate ourselves from the land. Indigenous people, from the moment they are born, have a special connection with the land. The theme already says that. The territory is the central point of rights. It is the relationship with what, from the land, provides what is necessary to survive,” Joenia Wapichana declared at the time.
“It is necessary and urgent to reconnect with Mother Earth, as this is the only way to keep our bodies alive,” says the Manifesto Reflorestarmentes, published during the second march under the theme “Original Women: reforesting minds for the healing of the Earth.” “Reflorestarmentes is not just about reforesting the land. It is also about building, thinking about what world, what Amazon, what Brazil we will have,” explains Puyr.
This time with the theme “Women in Defense of Biodiversity through Ancestral Roots,” the third march reinforces the role of Indigenous peoples in preserving biodiversity and asserts itself as a guarantee of the future for all humanity. “The fight for Mother Earth is a shared fight,” says Sonia Guajajara, Minister of Indigenous Peoples. “At a time when the whole world is discussing measures to reduce global warming, we have arrived to say that, without the demarcation of Indigenous lands, without the protection of our biomes, there will be no solution to this climate crisis. That is why the issue of biodiversity is now very strong, which, for us, is not just a topic; it is the protection of our lives, our existence,” emphasizes the minister.
Throughout plenary sessions, debates and working groups, the third march addressed important environmental issues, including climate emergencies, sustainability and illegal mining, in addition to the participation of Indigenous women in the 30th United Nations Conference on Climate Change. “The state of Pará will host COP30, and this cannot be built without the presence of Indigenous peoples, especially without the presence of women. We will build the agenda we want, the space we want within the COP. What COP do we want to show the world? What world do we want from this COP that is coming to Brazil?” reflects Puyr.
There is no climate justice without demarcation
On the morning of Sept. 11, the first day of the march, women participated in the International Colloquium on Climate Justice and Democracy, held by the Federal Supreme Court (STF) to debate how climate justice relates to topics such as human rights, democracy, minorities and intergenerational responsibility.
According to Puyr Tembé, it is not possible to talk about sustainability without the demarcation of Indigenous territories, the central agenda of all marches. “We are the guardians of biodiversity, traditional knowledge and we keep the forest alive. To achieve this, we need to combat deforestation, illegal mining, invasions of Indigenous lands and fight for the demarcation of territories, to guarantee the rights of our populations. This involves new economic models that respect local cultures, generate clean energy and preserve sociobiodiversity.”
The III March of Indigenous Women took place under a new political scenario, in the third term of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, largely supported by Indigenous peoples. However, there were intense concerns about the proposed time frame, a legal thesis that argues that Indigenous peoples have the right to occupy only the lands they occupied or were already contesting on Oct. 5, 1988, the date of promulgation of the Constitution.
This thesis is opposed to the theory of indigeneity, developed by João Mendes Junior and adopted by the last Constitution, according to which the right of Indigenous peoples over traditionally occupied lands is an original right, prior to the creation of the Brazilian state, and it is only up to the latter to demarcate and declare territorial limits.
On Sept. 21, the Supreme Court ruled against the highly controversial time frame thesis, in what activists regard as a triumph for the country’s traditional peoples.
The trial in question was a possessory action (Extraordinary Appeal No. 1,017,365) involving the Xokleng Ibirama-La Klãnõ Indigenous land, of the Xokleng people, also inhabited by the Kaingang and Guarani peoples and the state of Santa Catarina. With a status of general repercussion, the decision taken in this case now serves as a guideline for all processes of demarcation of Indigenous lands in the country. In practice, if the time frame were approved, all 1,393 Indigenous lands in Brazil would be evaluated according to this thesis, regardless of the situation, placing them under direct threat.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as well as the United Nations, reiterated their concern about the possible legal recognition of the time frame thesis by the Brazilian STF through documents published in recent months. “Indigenous peoples are guardians of the environment and biodiversity, and not just for their communities, but for all of humanity. At a time of climate emergency and high rates of deforestation, the debate on the time frame thesis becomes of global and urgent interest,” says an excerpt from the U.N. publication.
Banner image: III March of Indigenous Women in Brasília, September 2023. Image courtesy of Fabio Rodrigues-Pozzebom/ Agência Brasil.