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Indigenous land rights

October 2013

As yet more evidence shows that loss of land has tragic results for Brazil’s Guarani people, Christian Aid and Size of Wales fight for indigenous land rights.

Land loss linked to suicide

Recent figures from Survival International show that the Guarani-Kaiowá, a Brazilian indigenous group, have one of the highest suicide rates in the world – 34 times higher than the Brazilian national average.

Tupi-Guarani leader performing a dance about Guarani spiritual beliefs

Tupi-Guarani leader performing a dance about Guarani spiritual beliefs

Loss of territory is at the heart of the problem. It disrupts the Guarani traditional understanding of their relationship with the physical and spiritual worlds, as well as intensifying conflict within communities.

Land rights

Supporting poor communities to win land rights is a key part of Christian Aid’s programme in Brazil – whether they be landless workers in the agricultural south, or quilombolas (descendants of escaped slaves) living in the rainforest. It is essential to ensure resilient livelihoods and equal rights for all.

While the constitution recognises indigenous and quilombola rights to their lands, gaining legal titles for their territory is a long and bureaucratic process. In addition, the government often favours the demands of big business over vulnerable communities. 

As the suicide rate among the Guarani-Kaiowá demonstrates, this can have disastrous impacts on the more than 200 indigenous peoples already recognised in Brazil.

Tupi-Guarani activist studies a satellite map showing where deforestation has occurred due to illegal mining on his community’s land

A Tupi-Guarani activist studies a satellite map showing where deforestation has occurred due to illegal mining on his community’s land

That is why Christian Aid is working with our Brazilian partner, the Pro-Indigenous Commission (CPI), to support the rights of the Guarani people of the Mata Atlântica Forest on Brazil’s western coast. 

Although living in a different area of the country to the Guarani-Kaiowá, the people of the Mata Atlântica are from the same cultural group, and encounter some of the same struggles. 

Ranching, mining and logging companies, as well as the spread of the cities, are encroaching upon their ancestral lands.

Size of Wales logo With support from Size of Wales, Christian Aid and CPI have worked with Guarani communities to help them secure their land through techniques such as satellite mapping and advocacy training.

CPI recently produced a study with the Guarani communities showing the results of deforestation and loss of land. The study has received a lot of media attention.

The next step will be for CPI and the Guarani communities to present it to the government, promoting the case for indigenous land rights.

Catarina Santos, a Guarani elder from Piaçaguera community in the Mata Atlântica, says: ‘It was very difficult to live here before as we had no rights over the land.

'Mining has been very active in the region for a long time. It started firstly with logging and coal, which removed a lot of the vegetation.

'The companies then moved on to mining sand, which has made it very difficult for us to plant because the land is now infertile.

'This is threatening our survival because we aren’t able to grow much food.

‘We approached different government bodies to help us get rid of the mining companies, but it is only since CPI came that we have fully understood all of the threats to our way of life. We now feel fully supported.’

Claire Raisin, director of Size of Wales, said: ‘Spending time with communities who experience the effects of deforestation first hand was a truly humbling experience. However, it was also inspiring!

‘The Guarani are patient and realistic about the challenges that they face, but it’s wonderful to know that, thanks to the work of CPI - supported by Christian Aid and Size of Wales - the land is now in safe hands and will be sustainably managed today and for future generations.’

Christian Aid works with a number of local faith-based organisations in Brazil, including the Anglican Service for Diakonia and Development, which is linked to the Anglican Church of Brazil.

Archbishop Mauricio from the Anglican Church spoke out at the country's National Congress for the rights of indigenous people to be heard as leaders make key decisions affecting the use of their land.

Studies such as that produced by CPI and the Mata Atlántica Guarani are one way in which Christian Aid is helping to amplify indigenous voices in this debate. 

We have also funded a report on Guarani experiences of, and perspectives on, climate change.

Rainforest rights and climate change

When we destroy trees, not only do we kill organisms that soak up polluting gases, but we release additional carbon into the atmosphere.

Brazilian rainforest

Brazilian rainforest

CPI’s work is not just in the interests of the Guarani people, re-establishing their link with the land and preserving their cultural survival.

It also contributes to protecting the rainforest and the millions of species that are native to it, as indigenous groups pass down the techniques for living in the forest without damaging it.

Protecting indigenous land rights helps prevent deforestation and protect the whole world’s climate. It is in all our interests.

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