The future of the Indians: interview with Manuela Carneiro da Cunha

Submitted by Guilherme Freitas – 16.02.2013

The future of the Indians: interview with Manuela Carneiro da Cunha

By Guilherme Freitas

Often seen as “delayed” or as obstacles to economic expansion, the indigenous people pointed out, with their knowledge and their way of relating to the environment, an alternate path for Brazil, says anthropologist Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, which launches collection of essays on the topic. In “Indians in Brazil: history, rights and citizenship” (Companhia das Letras), it brings together the work of the last three decades on issues as the demarcation of land and the changes in the Constitution. In this interview, Professor at the University of Chicago, invited by the federal Government to develop a study on the relationship between traditional knowledge and science, criticizes the ‘ accelerated ‘ Narashimha management development and argues for ‘ a new Pact ‘ of society with indigenous populations.

“Indians in Brazil” is a compilation of texts published since the early 1980. Throughout this period, which were the main changes in the Brazilian public debate about indigenous populations?

I would place it as milestone in 1978, the year in which, during the dictatorship, there was an unprecedented mobilization in favor of the rights of Indians. At the time, the Minister of the Interior, on the pretext of emancipar. Indians of any tutelage, wanted to “emancipate” indigenous lands and put them on the market. The real debate focused on the right of indigenous peoples to their lands, a principle that has endured since the colony. This right does not budge. But since the Land Law of 1850 at least, the day was the same: stated that the Indians were “confused with the mass of the population” and distributed their land. In 1978, tried to repeat this mystification. Civil society, at the time prevented from manifesting in political affairs, their protest in the indigenous cause chaos. I think the very significant advance of the demarcations since that time has had a boost in that popular mobilization. Another milestone was the constituent Assembly, ten years later. The right to land and was again proclaimed and specified, the debate moved to what we could and couldn’t do in indigenous lands, and two themes dominated this debate: mining and hydroelectric plants. Very significant was the Defense made by the national coordination of Geologists that there mine dilithium in indigenous areas, which should stand as a mineral reserve for the country. Since that time, the radical changes of the media spread to a very wide public controversies as involving for example the Belo Monte dam and hydroelectric plants in the Tapajos, and dramatic situations such as those of the awá in Maranhão or kaiowá in Mato Grosso do Sul. I believe that the biggest civil society information has changed the quality of the debates. A new theme of debates came up with the Biodiversity Convention, in 1992, the intellectual rights of indigenous peoples over their knowledge. And finally, with the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO), is debating how to put into practice the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted on projects that affect them.

You notice that the indigenous population in the country has increased from 250 thousand people, in 1993, to 897 thousand, according to the 2010 census. That can be attributed this increase? The demarcation of land policies and the promotion of indigenous rights have responded to it?

The large increase of the indigenous population took place in the period from 1991 to 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, the increase was proportionately less than in the general population. Only a portion of this growth can be attributed to an improvement in the infant mortality and fertility. What really changed is that being Indian is no longer an identity which has shame. Indians who live in the cities, in Manaus, for example, went on to declare himself as such. And indigenous communities, especially in the Northeast, reemergiram. But, contrary to what one might imagine (and trying to have us believe), these diseases do not have claims of ethnic groups of significant areas.

How do you evaluate the performance of the Government of President Dilma Rousseff in relation to indigenous populations, in the face of the criticism caused by Ordinance 303 (which would limit the enjoyment of demarcated indigenous lands) and the new forest code, for example?

The Executive has several faces: its programme of income redistribution is being successful; but its other core values trampled on accelerated development. In addition, the agribusiness has only increased his political power, which ended in the disappointing result of the aggiornamento of the forest code in 2012. The Government tried to put himself as arbiter, but became a hostage of a sector particularly short-sighted of agribusiness, one that does not measure the consequences of deforestation and destruction of the rivers. The Brazilian society for the progress of science and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, in several studies sent to Congress and published, presented the conclusions and recommendations of scientists. Were ignored. Now just leave a study of Imazon (the Institute of man and the environment of the Amazon) which reiterates and quantifies a central recommendations of these studies. To meet the growing demand for food, the solution is not to occupy new lands but increase productivity, particularly in animal husbandry, responsible for the occupation of new deforestation. The Government has a vital role to play: it’s up to him to establish security, regularizing the chaos that now prevails in titling of lands in Brazil. Just see which, as we reported a few days ago, the lands in physical form in Brazil over the lands that actually exist in an area equivalent to more than two States. A trusted application is perfectly possible, we need the political will to achieve it. You asked specifically by Ordinance 303/2012, the Attorney General of the Union, which intended to abusively to extend to all situations of indigenous lands restrictions decided by the Supreme Court for the complicated case of Raposa Serra do Sol in Roraima. She is more a symptom of contradictory trends within the Executive, which, on the one hand, got “desintrusar” peacefully a xavante area, but, on the other hand, admits an Ordinance like this. It is absurd, and it’s not for nothing that was placed in a water bath by the Government. Was suspended but not canceled … The National Association of Lawyers of the Union asked in September its repeal and characterized his guidance as “blatantly unconstitutional”. This Ordinance also hurts at least four articles of the Convention 169 of the ILO, of which Brazil is a signatory.

In an essay in the late 1990, you’ve talked about the competition for water and mineral resources in indigenous areas. Believes that these disputes are the fiercest today?

Already in the constituent Assembly, in 1988, these two issues were central. A compromise was reached, which stipulated the conditions for access to these features: listen to the affected communities and national Congress authorization (article 231 para. 3). The dispute has not changed, but the current political environment encourages a new offensive on the part of those who never conformed. And so new advances in Congress: bills to usurp the executive responsibility for the demarcation of the land and to open the indigenous areas to mining. In turn, Belo Monte was shoved down our throats so authoritarian: Executive ran over the prior consultation, free and informed that the Indians are entitled, and essential restrictions agreed were not met, for example with regard to health care.

In the essay on indigenous policy of the 19th century, you show how at that moment become a view of Indians as “primitive” peoples that target would be incorporated into the “progress”. To what extent this idea persists today?

This view is increasingly obsolete: the triumphalist notion of progress measured by indicators such as the GDP is today severely criticized. Values such as environmental sustainability, social justice, human development and diversity are now part of assessing the true progress of a country. On the other hand, in the 19th century positivists and evolutionists recently questioned the social idea of an inexorable March of history: whatever the politics, the Indians would be doomed to disappearance, when not simply physical, at least. This is also a fallacy that the story itself has Demystified: the Indians, fortunately, are here to stay. The story is not for you, are people who make history, and their actions have consequences. Uses this ideological rubble who lacks arguments.

In the essay “the future of the indigenous question”, are you advocating the need for “a new Pact with the indigenous populations” and the “sociodiversity” as “survival” condition to the world. How do you define “sociodiversity”, and what would this “New Covenant”?

Brazil is not only the megadiverse for their great diversity of species, it is also distinct societies which houses megadiverse. According to the IBGE census of 2010, there are 305 indigenous ethnic groups in Brazil, 274 speaking languages. This sociodiversity is, according to Lévi-Strauss, an invaluable capital of sociological imagination and a source of knowledge. A world without diversity is a dead world. What about the Pact with the indigenous peoples who for reimbursing Members into line, it is the following: the Indians who saved the forest and biodiversity so far (just see how the Xingu National Park is a Green Island in a sea of devastation) are subject to great pressure from logging and other economic agents. No guarantee if conditions do not change, they can continue in that direction. For Brazil, which needs urgently a forest conservation program, a pact with the indigenous peoples to that end would be essential.

In the Rio + 20, you participated in a panel discussion on the contributions of indigenous knowledge in science. What can be done to enable this dialogue?

The knowledge of the various indigenous societies can continue to bring important contributions to topics such as forecasting and adaptation to climate change, biodiversity conservation, ecology, biological activity substances, substances with possible industrial uses and many others. This is already recognized and put into practice within the framework of the Convention on biological diversity and climate Panel, for example. One might think that would be enough to collect this information and use it in our science when useful. But there is another important dimension of these knowledges, which is its specific mode of producing knowledge. This diversity allows us to think differently, to leave the confines of our axioms. This is not, as do certain new age movements, to assign a value superior to traditional knowledge; This is not to adhere to them. Either it comes to assimilate them and dilute them in academic science. The importance of different modes of knowledge is to make us realize that one can think otherwise. It was abandoning a single postulate of Euclid which Lobatchevski and Bolayi saw so entirely new geometry. So the dialogue of different knowledge systems with each other and with the science must preserve the autonomy of each. the Ministry of science, technology and innovation, by CNPq, commissioned a study to me to lay the foundations for a new dialogue between science and traditional knowledge systems. It is not simple. But since we already know that this will entail institutional forms that empoderem the various partners. A pilot project is being planned in that context responds to one of the guidelines of the FAO (United Nations food and Agriculture Organization) which is part of the Treaty on plant genetic resources. It is the conservation of the agricultural diversity of cassava cultivars, under the conduction of indigenous peoples of Rio Negro. The choice is not by chance. The farmers of the middle and upper Negro River managed to maintain, create and accumulate hundreds of varieties of cassava.

How plays popular recent mobilizations around indigenous causes, as was the case in favor of the guarani kaiowá?

Think healthy these mobilizations that, as I have said, are the result of a new era in information. Before the political setback in environmental issues, indigenous and quilombola, there are voices that arise with indignation. The tragic situation of guarani kaiowá, punctuated by young suicides, is emblematic of absurdity that would be the application of Decree 303/2012. More than just an extension of their lands — since they guaranteed that does not correspond to the article 231 of the Constitution determines — would put at risk the few lands that have. The kaiowá suicides reach each of us: we are all kaiowá.


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