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Brazilian Indigenous Win Supreme Court Victory to Keep Their Land In Mato Grosso

The Federal Supreme Court ruled in favor of indigenous people recently, stating their lands in Mato Grosso are ‘immemorially indigenous.’
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On August 16, Brazil's Supreme Court unanimously rejected a government-backed proposal that would have taken more land away from indigenous people based on a 'Time frame' (Marco Temporal) thesis that asserted indigenous people would not have rights to lands they hadn't been occupying in 1988, the year of the country's most recent constitution.

The Court was asked to look at two land title issues from the state of Mato Grosso. Brazilian President Michel Temer and rich landowners (known as ruralists in Brazil) supported the idea that the state of Mato Grosso could seize the Xingu National Park and territory belonging to the Nambikwara and Parecis peoples because indigenous people were not occupying those areas in 1988.

The Federal Supreme Court (STF) disagreed and stated that those lands are "immemorially indigenous" and that Mato Grosso could not expropriate those lands.


Indigenous activists and allies hailed the decision as being very positive.

"This was an important victory for the Indigenous Peoples of these indigenous territories because the STF recognized their original rights and this will have national repercussions," asserted Luiz Henrique Eloy, attorney for the APIB, the national pan-indigenous organization of Brazil.

"This is a very important victory for our people and our family...who are fighting for health and territory," said Adilio Benites, a Guarani leader who was celebrating at the courthouse in Brasilia after holding an all-night vigil outside of the building.

"Today's historic rulings not only uphold Brazil's constitutional recognition of indigenous land rights and mark a crucial victory for Brazil's Indigenous Peoples," said Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch (a non-profit agency that advocates on behalf of Native peoples in the Amazon region).

"They also provide an important check on the Temer administration's attempts to serve a retrograde and greedy agribusiness elite with proven disregard for human rights and environmental balance," Poirer stated.

While the pro-indigenous activists were pleased by the recent court victory, some of them asserted that the efforts to seize indigenous lands would continue nonetheless.

The Tupinamba journalist/screenwriter Renata Machado, who has been covering indigenous Brazilian issues and is a co-producer of an indigenous radio show called Radio Yande, asserted that the pro-Time Frame groups have power in the Brazilian Congress and that they are interested in "limiting indigenous territorial rights."

"Ruralists want the Time Frame to be used as a criterion for all Indigenous Territorial processes, which would make it impossible to demarcate lands that have not yet had their processes finalized," she said.

Although the issue surrounding the indigenous territories in Mato Grosso has been resolved the Temer administration is backing another attempt to take away territory from the Jaragua people near Sao Paolo. The APIB and others are organizing more protests for the end of August.