• Indigenous peoples in Brazil

    Indigenous peoples in Brazil

    There are 896.917 indigenous persons in Brazil, distributed among 305 ethnic groups.The main challenge for indigenous people is the threat that new indigenous territories will no longer be established. Permissiveness prevails with hydroelectric and mining companies that directly or indirectly affect indigenous territory.


Indigenous Peoples' rights in Brazil

According to the 2010 census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, there are 896,917 Indigenous persons in Brazil. The country voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), and the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2016) and has signed ILO Convention 169.

The Constitution of 1988 recognizes the Indigenous peoples as the first and natural owners of the land and guarantees them their right to land. Exploration and extraction of mineral wealth on Indigenous lands must be carried out solely with authorization from the National Congress after listening to the communities involved, who must be guaranteed participation in the benefits of the mining activities. Eviction of Indigenous peoples from their lands is prohibited.

Indigenous peoples in Brazil

There are 896,917 Indigenous persons in Brazil, distributed among 305 ethnic groups. The principal indigenous ethnic group is the Tikúna, who comprise 6.8% of the total indigenous population.

There are around 274 languages. Among Indigenous persons over the age of five, only 37.4% speak an Indigenous language, while 76.9% speak Portuguese. It is estimated that there are 115 peoples living in isolation,1 of which 28 are confirmed and the rest are in the process of being identified.

502,783 individuals out of the Indigenous population in Brazil live in rural zones and 315,180 in urban zones. A total of 505 Indigenous Lands have been identified, covering 12.5% of Brazilian territory (106.7 million hectares). The majority of these territories are concentrated in the Amazon.

Brazil is the country in South America with the largest known concentration of Indigenous Peoples in isolation in the states of Amap., Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Acre, Amazonas, Goiás, Maranhao, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, and Tocantins. Currently, there are 107 records of the presence of Indigenous Peoples in isolation in the Amazon region.

Election of Jair Bolsonaro as President

Following the Presidential elections in Brazil in October 2018 Jair Bolsonaro, former captain of the Brazilian army and candidate of the evangelist party, assumed the Presidency on January 1, 2019. Claiming to represent rural Brazilians and promoting the priorities of his evangelist party the government of Jair Bolsonaro’s policies and agenda directly threaten the constitutional rights and freedoms of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples. The Frente Parlamentar da Agropecuária, Brazil’s largest parliamentary group, represents the vested interests of companies and major landowners in the country. The group represents businesses that move over 118 million US $ in agricultural and livestock products and who support Jair Bolsonaro’s agenda to open up lands and resources, previously safeguarded to exploitation.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s agenda directly threatens Indigenous Peoples, particularly its recent unconstitutional revocation of the legal processes of demarcation related to Indigenous lands. These processes helped recognize and protect Indigenous land holdings. This revocation means that at any time, official reports, declaratory ordinances and Indigenous land permissions which have been issued can be reviewed and revoked. Further, supporting the interests of the Frente Parlamentar da agropecuaria, the economic exploitation of the traditional lands of the Indigenous and quilombola peoples, is given free rein. Bolsonaro’s support and actions are being used to justify brutal attacks against these peoples further accusing them of being the great obstacles for the development of the country.

In addition to questioning the acquired and recognized rights related to these processes of demarcation, the Fundação nacional do índio (FUNAI – National Foundation for Indians), the federal body directly linked to the demarcation of Indigenous lands is being functionally deactivated. The budget approved in 2018 is insufficient to ensure the minimum conditions that give continuity to its tasks. Further, to curtail efforts to protect Indigenous lands, on the first day of his mandate, (January 1, 2019) the government of Jair Bolsonaro approved a decree that assigns the responsibility of certifying the protection of Indigenous territories to the Ministry of Agriculture, which is well known to defend the interests of business’ that want access to previously restricted and protected Indigenous lands.

Photo: National strike in Peru, Pativilca-Huaraz highway. Credit: John Commandment

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Indigenous Peoples, public policies and elections in Brazil


The country owes a great internal, social and historical debt: the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples. Reparations began to be made for this reality with the 1988 Constitution, a series of public policies aimed at recognition of their rights and the demarcation of Indigenous Lands. In recent years, however, faced with the setbacks experienced under the government of Jair Bolsonaro, the Indigenous movement has opted for resistance, organization and political participation through candidacies. The State needs to be aware that the Indigenous struggle is focused on historical reparation.

Photo: Ricardo Stuckert

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Bolsonaro's strategy to make Indigenous Peoples disappear in Brazil


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Illegal mining in Yanomami Indigenous Land. Photo: Bruno Kelly / HAY

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Eliesio Marubo: “Brazilian politics has given no importance to the Indigenous movement’s agenda”


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Historic mobilization of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil


As never before, leaders from all over the country came together for a show of force against Jair Bolsonaro's anti-Indigenous and genocidal policies. It is no longer just symbolic violence or covert racism: it is direct violence. The Indigenous peoples want to be protagonists of a new development model and, to that end, they seek to increase their representation in the national Congress. Unity with city workers and family farmers is a fundamental requirement for us to move towards a more just society.

Photo: Midia NINJA


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IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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