Indigenous Protestors Wounded at Site of Disputed Land in Brazil

One indigenous man was killed and others wounded during a confrontation with police last week over disputed land in Brazil.

One indigenous man was killed and others wounded during a confrontation with police last week over disputed land that had been promised to the Terena people in the Matto Grosso do Sul region of Brazil.

Federal authorities have asserted they will conduct an investigation into the killing and that they are working on negotiations with the Terena and other Indigenous Peoples.

On Thursday, May 30th, Oziel Gabriel, one of hundreds of Terena people involved in the conflict, was shot and killed in Sidrolandia, a small town in southern Brazil. Press sources also state that four police officers were wounded in the confrontation but no further details have been released.

The events that lead up to the killing started on May 15th when Gabriel and the other Terena protestors decided to occupy the site which is part of a stretch of territory promised to the Terena as a result of a 2010 federal order. The Terena were reportedly frustrated with the legal maneuvering that prevented them from taking possession of the land and decided to force the issue.

In response to their occupation, military and federal police came to the area soon after the occupation, and a few days later the police received orders to remove the Terena protestors. The officials moved in on the protestors in the morning of May 30th, firing tear gas and what were supposedly non-lethal munitions. According to various accounts, the protestors used bow and arrows and spears and threw rocks in their defense, and at one point set fire to one of the structures on the property.

The protestors were forced off of the land and several were arrested. Local press also stated that not long after the news of Gabriel's death was publicized, another group of indigenous people went to occupy another parcel of land in the same region.

Brazilian authorities initially stated that it was unclear who had shot Gabriel during the incident however an investigation started on June 3rd turned up munitions used by military and federal police near the spot where Gabriel was killed.

According to Emerson Kalif Siqueira, a spokesman for the Federal Public Ministry (FPM), his agency has ordered a new autopsy of Gabriel’s body. Other police officials as well as some from the federal Special Secretary on Human Rights will be conducting investigations into the incident.

The disputed territory is owned by local landowner and politician Ricardo Bacha. In other interviews Bacha asserted that his family has owned the land since 1920 but due to efforts to return some territory to indigenous people throughout Brazil, research showed that the Bacha property had definitely belonged to indigenous people. (On June 4th, a group of over 50 Brazilian anthropologists, several of whom have been involved in the research of indigenous territory, issued an open letter to the nation decrying the anti-indigenous bias in the mainstream Brazilian media, and re-asserting their push for demarcation of land for the indigenous people.)

After various legislative changes, in 2010 the Ministry of Justice allotted 42,000 acres to a federal indigenous agency known as FUNAI to be distributed to indigenous communities. In 2012 however, a local judge had ruled in favor Bacha and other landowners, allowing them to keep their farms.

Both the landowners and the Indigenous Peoples have issued public statements asserting that they will continue to fight to control the territory.